Return to Transcripts main page


Syrian Risked Life to Expose Alleged Torture; Martin McGuinness: IRA Leader Turned Peacemaker; Palestinian Hijabistas Don American Baseball Caps

Aired March 21, 2017 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:06] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, an exclusive. The first television interview with the Syrian defector, Caesar, who smuggled

out tens of thousands of images of murdered Assad opponents.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was horrified. I was terrified every day of the job that I was doing. I would look at the different horrendous ways that these

individuals were slaughtered and tortured to death.


AMANPOUR: Also ahead, from IRA commander to peacemaker, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the death of Martin McGuiness.


TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Without Martin McGuiness, I don't think it would have ever been possible to have concluded the Good

Friday Agreement.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

The man who could be a star witness at any war crimes trial against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks out to us in his first television

interview. His nom de guerre is Caesar, a defector from the Syrian military police.

Three years ago, in a major world exclusive, we, along with the UK "Guardian" newspaper first published his gruesome evidence, which was

around 55,000 images of some 11,000 bodies that he had smuggled out of the country.

A team of internationally renowned war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts called that evidence of systematic torture and killing of prison

detainees by the Assad regime.

Caesar hoped the images would galvanize the world to action. And he's now in the United States, trying to persuade the Trump administration to

act, where the Obama administration failed.

Here's a quick recap of his undercover work. And a warning that the pictures you're about to see are graphic and distressing.


AMANPOUR: Caesar was a forensic photographer with the Syrian military police in Damascus. But from the start of the war, he found himself

documenting, quote, "killed detainees every day".

The bodies in the photos showed starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture. When we made this horrifying

evidence public more than two years ago on this program, we spoke to the report's authors.

DESMOND DE SILVA, FORMER CHIEF PROSECUTOR, SPECIAL COURT FOR SIERRA LEONE: This evidence would underpin a charge of crimes against humanity, without

any shadow of a doubt.

AMANPOUR: The Syrian government and its allies have consistently dismissed the reports saying it has no credibility. Human rights watch says it's

confident the photos are authentic.

That group carried out a nine-month investigation, identifying a number of victims and highlighting some of the key causes of their deaths.

They interviewed former prisoners, defectors, forensic experts and families of the disappeared.

Like the uncle of 14-year-old Ahmed, who was arrested in 2012, at a checkpoint in Syria, after police found an anti-Assad song on his phone.

His uncle searched for over three years before discovering his body in the Caesar photographs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was him, it was him. It was Ahmed with a number. They put a number on him. Ahmed was a soul and they put a number on him.

AMANPOUR: Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court, but cases or investigations based on Caesar's evidence are underway in Spain,

Germany, and France.


AMANPOUR: Now, around the time that Caesar was collecting that evidence, there were high-level defections in Syria from the Assad regime. One

general even accused the military of massacring innocent civilians.

Now, visiting the United States again, trying to galvanize support from Capitol Hill to the holocaust museum, I finally caught up with Caesar

in Washington.


AMANPOUR: Caesar, welcome to the program. It's not your name and you are in disguise. How dangerous would it be if people knew who you were?

CAESAR, SYRIAN MILITARY POLICE DEFECTOR: After three years, I have wanted to come out on international media with my voice and with my real face.

And I have the evidence and the documents and the pictures that show what the regime crimes are, but until today, I haven't had the chance to come

out with my face.

AMANPOUR: Caesar, can you tell me what your job was and why you decided to publicize, to smuggle out these pictures?

[15:05:00] CAESAR: I used to work inside the military police, with a group of other photographers that have different specialties. Our job, before

the revolution, we took pictures of accidents. If somebody was killed, if there was a suicide, if there was someone who drowned or if there was a


Part of our work in the forensic evidence section is to go and to document these accidents and to work with the judges and the detectives

from the military police. But, after the beginning of the revolution, after 2011, my work changed in a very full, fundamental way.

We were no longer taking pictures of accidents or suicides or a drowning. All of our work, for me and for my team was to take pictures of

martyrs, of prisoners that were detained in the Assad jails.

AMANPOUR: When did you realize that your job had changed and were there many, many more bodies that you were photographing on a regular basis, than

before the revolution?

CAESAR: There were small numbers at first, at the beginning of the revolution. We would take, in a day, 10 to 20 people. Sometimes, 5 to 10

bodies, that we would get daily. But as the revolution went on, at the beginning of 2012, for example, the number started going up in a very

marked way.

We started taking photos of 20, then 30, until it came to a point where we were taking like 50 or more bodies every day, by 2013, for


AMANPOUR: Caesar, we are seeing really horrible pictures. We have them projected on our wall here. These are the pictures that you smuggled out.

What were the causes of death that you were recording?

CAESAR: Most of the bodies that we were taking photos of were of people that, by the way, were peaceful people. These are some of the people that

just took part of the protests in Damascus and they were calling for freedom.

There was signs of sometimes them being shot and you can see many wounds in their heads, in their bodies, in their arms. We began to take

photographs of bodies that had all these signs of all types of torture, of starvation for long periods of time, and there would be a doctor and there

would be a photographer and there would be people from the security forces with us, to go body by body, and we would number them, based on the number

that they were murdered in.

AMANPOUR: Caesar, did you ever dare ask your superiors what was going on?

CAESAR: Who doesn't live in Syria doesn't understand the situation of how much fear that existed within us. Even the pathologists had a high level,

a high rank, but he was terrified of the intelligence. The intelligence officers that were with us, it was terrifying. It was not allowed for us

to ask any question.

AMANPOUR: You were doing this for two years. What impact did it have on you, personally?

CAESAR: I was horrified. I was terrified every day of the job that I was doing. I would look at the different horrendous ways that these

individuals were slaughtered and tortured to death.

The only crime they had was that they called for their own dignity and for their own freedom. And then I would, I would, I would picture my own

self on the faces of these bodies, and worry about my family being in their place. And many times, I saw people that I knew, personally, but because

of the horrendous torture that had happened to them, it was hard for me to recognize them.

The types of torture were the worst that I've ever seen. Very blood- thirsty regime.

AMANPOUR: So what made you take the incredible decision to copy these pictures and to smuggle them out?

CAESAR: Every human being has an amount of patience and for almost three years, we're taking these pictures of bodies, of innocents being killed.

And every single day, I was so afraid.

Every morning, I would say good-bye to my wife, thinking that I may not see her again. So the way it affected me is that there was a lot of

pain for me seeing and doing what I'm doing.

But, if it was me or any other human being, who has risked his life and the life of his family and friends and children, but if in my heart, if

you have even an atom of humanity within your heart, you cannot stand by and let this happen without exposing them.

AMANPOUR: So how did you do it?

CAESAR: When I finished work, we would finish at night. I would take all of the pictures and all of the documents from the computer of the military

police office, and I would put them on flash drives, very small flash drives and memory cards.

[15:10:00] Then, I would take them to another location, away from the office, and I had a friend and he would take them and he would put them on

his personal computer, and this was the way that I snuck out photos every single day, but this was very, very dangerous because I had to go through

checkpoints all the time for the regime. And I would be searched many times.

And so I was always very worried and I would hide these flash drives, like -- and the memory cards, in a place that's secretive, on my body, for

example, in my socks or in my underwear.

AMANPOUR: Caesar, you must know that President Assad denies everything that you have said, everything that you have shown. In an interview he

said, you can bring photos from anyone and say this is torture. Who took the pictures? Who is he? Nobody knows. There's no verification of any of

this evidence.

What do you say to President Assad, who wants the world not to believe you?

CAESAR: The pictures were taken by his own government, the way that the numbering and the processing is the way that the military police happen and

the way they did it in Damascus.

And there are independent investigators and others that have seen these pictures and were able to authenticate all of these photos, but he

does not want any change. He does not want to leave authority.

AMANPOUR: Caesar, you're in the United States right now. You're trying to talk to members of Congress about this. And these pictures have been out

since we first broke them along with the "Guardian" more than two years ago.

Did it have the effect that you hoped?

CAESAR: I came afterwards to the United States and to Congress to speak to the American people, because we believe in their democracy. And I showed

all the proof, all the documentation that shows the criminality of the regime, but unfortunately, my hopes and my expectations were way too high,

because I expected much more from the world.

I spoke to the American people and to the White House under Obama's administration, and we told them that we have shown the killing and torture

of so many of the Syrian people. And you cannot give back the lives to those that have lost it. But we ask you, out of your humanity, to stop the

machinery of death.

And I repeated, we are asking to all the officials, to all the policy makers, to President Trump's White House, which we are hoping will do the

right thing, we beg you to stop the machinery of death in Syria.

You are America and the United States Congress and the American people. You always stand next to justice. And you stand with democracy.

We ask you to stand with the Syrian people, the oppressed people that are calling for nothing except for justice.

AMANPOUR: Caesar, thank you very much for talking to us today.

CAESAR: Thank you. Thank you so much.


AMANPOUR: An impassioned appeal to the world's conscience there.

When we come back, what the warring sides in Syria could learn from Northern Ireland's Martin McGuinness, who went from I.R.A. commander to

peacemaker and elder statesmen.

The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair remembers his negotiating partner in the Good Friday Peace Process. That's next.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And we learned early this morning that Martin McGuinness has died at the age of 66 after what a (INAUDIBLE)

statement simply calls a short illness.

He was the former I.R.A. war commander who was instrumental in eventually bringing peace to Northern Ireland. As a young man, McGuinness

helped lead paramilitary forces of the I.R.A. To some, he was a freedom fighter. To others, a terrorist.

But he came to embody the transformation from militant to peacemaker. A conflict resolution process that's been studied the world over.

McGuinness helped make the impossible possible, including meeting the queen of England, who was the embodiment of everything his nationalists opposed.

Today, the queen sent a private message to his widow and the former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, who also helped shepherd that Good Friday

Peace Agreement said that, "When he decided to fight for peace, Martin was calm, courageous, and direct. And when he gave his word, that was as good

as gold."

But perhaps his closest sparring partner was then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who told me today that Martin McGuinness has assured

his place in history.


AMANPOUR: Tony Blair, welcome to the program.

BLAIR: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: One of the great achievements of your time in office was the Good Friday Agreement. Could that have been achieved without the full

participation of Martin McGuinness?

BLAIR: No. Without Martin McGuinness, I don't think it would have ever been possible to have concluded the Good Friday Agreement, to have made the

peace process work. And you know, the peace agreement itself was concluded in 1998, but it then took us virtually nine years to put the actual power-

sharing government in place with Martin McGuinness sitting down with Ian Paisley. And without Martin's continual influence and commitment to that

process, no, I don't think it would have ever have happened.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about the first time you met, when he and Jerry Adams came to Downing Street.

BLAIR: The first time we met in Downing Street, it was a very strange occasion for both of us, for Martin McGuinness and Jerry Adams. For me as

the British prime minister. It was a meeting at Downing Street that I suppose would have been absolutely unthinkable.

And when they came into the cabinet room at Downing Street, the first thing that Martin McGuinness said as he sat down at the cabinet table, he

looked around and said, so this was where the damage was done, meaning, of course, the partition of Ireland in the old days under Lloyd George, to

which my chief-of-staff Jonathan Powell said I thought by damage, you meant, when you guys fired the mortar through the windows of Downing


And, you know, it was a sort of moment where he was remembering the history for many decades before we were remembering more recent history,

but we were both exposing the fact that this was an historic meeting and one that was unimaginable, just a short time ago.

AMANPOUR: And it obviously broke the ice.

Do you have any sympathy and do you think there are a lot of people, for instance, in Northern Ireland, whose families were victims of the

troubles, who may have a hard time accepting that Martin McGuinness was the peacemaker as well, and now these fulsome tributes that are being paid to

him all over the world?

BLAIR: Yes, I'm sure there will be many of the people who lost their loved ones during the troubles and many of them were innocent people killed by

acts of terrorism. You know, they will feel it very hard to forgive and impossible to forget.

But, you know, I always used to say to people, the reason why we need this peace process is to avoid more innocent lives being lost. And when

you think today, you think back on those troubles, and I remember growing up, with the troubles in Northern Ireland, with literally day in, day out,

stories of brutality and killing and murder and terror and reprisal.

And, today, there are so many people alive who, if we hadn't brought the troubles to an end and the peace process into being, wouldn't be alive

today. So -- but I completely understand that there will be many people who for them, the name of Martin McGuinness is synonymous with the

terrorism of the past. But for those of us dealt with him in his later incarnation as a peacemaker, the fact is he was instrumental in bringing

peace and he showed in that enormous courage and dedication and leadership.

I wonder if all of that is represented in what he described as an interesting relationship with the queen. A respectful relationship with

the queen.

I mean, the monarchy was targeted and it represented everything that the Northern Ireland Nationalists didn't like. But I want to play you a

little sound bite that he gave to me in his last interview with CNN about his relationship with the queen.


MARTIN MCGUINNESS, FORMER FIRST MINISTER AND DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER: I think we have a very, very good, respectful relationship. She had many

reasons not to meet me in the first instance. I had many reasons, also, not to meet with her. But I think against the backdrop of the work of

peace and the work of reconciliation, the fact that both of us are prepared to, I think, set an example for many people throughout Ireland and indeed

throughout the world, I think that sends a very powerful message.


AMANPOUR: What's your reaction to that?

BLAIR: It's very typically Martin, those words. I mean, you know, the first meeting I had with him, he was quite tough and quite, you know, um,

how can I put it? I mean, it wasn't a comfortable meeting. As time went on, once he became convinced we were sincere, in our desire for peace, he

became what he really was in many ways, which is a very warm-hearted person. And you know, he did end up in this curious relationship with the

queen, who was, in one sense, the symbol of everything that he would have detested. But, he was both respectful of her, of her position, and of the

fact that, you know, she was prepared within her role as constitutional monarch to play a part in that process.

And I think, you know, in the end, it was certainly one of the strangest coming together that we've witnessed in this whole saga. But it

was also one of the most poignant.

Could I just do a very hard turn to some current news between the United States and Britain? The accusations by Donald Trump and his people of GCHQ

wiretapping Trump Tower. And they're still not backing off it, even though the FBI director told Congress that they have absolutely no evidence about


What do you think when you hear that?

BLAIR: Look, Christiane, I don't -- you know, this is not an issue I particularly want to get into. I mean, the fact of the matter is, GCHQ

would simply never do such a thing. And it's completely inconceivable to me that they would even contemplate it.

Look, I hope this can be resolved in a way where everyone accepts the reality of the situation that's happened. The relationship between the

U.S. and Britain is far too important to let it be clouded by this or anything else. So I hope it's resolved. But it's not something I have

obviously any personal knowledge of him.

I think those who are in positions of authority at the moment are perfectly capable of dealing with it.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Blair, thank you very much indeed.

BLAIR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Now, it's perhaps not too bold to suggest that all sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict could learn a thing or two from Northern

Ireland's experience.

This summer marks 50 years since the West Bank was occupied.

And next, in the absence of peace there, we imagine the Palestinian women playing baseball in Gaza.


[15:26:00] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine a world where Palestinian Hijabistas don American baseball caps. When baseball coach

Mahmoud Tafesh arrived in Gaza just a year after learning how to play ball in Egypt, his most eager wannabe ballplayers were Gaza's women, egged on by

their own families. And they've now formed a team, hoping to ignite a Palestinian passion for the game.

At the moment, they're a diamond in the rough, so to speak. Tennis balls stand in for baseballs and the baseball gloves are, in fact, not the

traditional leather, but fabric doppelgangers fashioned by local tailors. Despite these humble beginnings, the women dream of one day competing in

the name of their homeland across the globe, regardless of where they end up. Right now, they're having a ball.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at and follow me on

Facebook and twitter. Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.