Return to Transcripts main page
Remembering 9/11; The Women of Afghanistan. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 09, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
TONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They have told the world that they intend to uphold the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women and
girls. We will be looking very, very carefully at that.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): While women and Afghan cities protest for their rights, what is life really like for women in the countryside? "The New
Yorker"'s Anand Gopal provides a crucial overlooked perspective.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were also signs of hope. Those little moments of caring for another were the difference between life and death.
GOLODRYGA: The horror and humanity of the day that started it all with Daniel Bogado, director of "9/11: One Day in America."
SPENCER ACKERMAN, THE DAILY BEAST: Nine-eleven and the war on terror that results from it is a doorway into American history.
GOLODRYGA: How 9/11 transformed American democracy. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Spencer Ackerman about his new book, "Reign of Terror."
And, finally, writer Sandra Cisneros on her coming of age in Paris.
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, who will be back tomorrow.
Afghanistan's new leaders allowed about 200 people to leave Kabul for Doha today, among them U.S. nationals. It's the first commercial flight out
since the Taliban seized control in mid-August. But inside Kabul, it's clear that there's a new sheriff in town. The Taliban detained more than a
dozen journalists this week, including these two reporters from an Afghan new site who were arrested and, as you can see then, tortured and badly
beaten while reporting on a women's rights protest there.
All this week, we have seen brave women taking to the streets in cities like Kabul and Herat, but what is life like for women of the Afghan
countryside, suffering through decades of civil war and foreign occupation?
"New Yorker" contributor Anand Gopal embedded himself amid people and places that are rarely covered in Western media. His new article is called
"The Other Afghan Women."
And he joins me now from Doha, Qatar.
Anand, thank you so much for joining us.
This is a fascinating piece that I suggest everyone read when they ask what the last 20 years has been like and what is the impact on women in
particular in Afghanistan. You chose to focus on the other women, who, in this case, are women that live in the countryside. Why?
ANAND GOPAL, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, when we think about the war in Afghanistan, we tend to have a very vague idea.
But, in fact, on the ground, the war was only fought in part of the country, and that's in the rural hinterlands, mostly in Southern
Afghanistan, places like Helmand and Kandahar province. And so I was really curious to see, what was life like for people who've been living in some
cases through four decades of conflict?
So I decided to travel to Helmand Province this summer to interview dozens of women to try to find out.
GOLODRYGA: I'm just curious, how did you find these women? And were they open to speaking with you?
I know you spent a significant amount of time with a woman named Shakira, who seemed surprised that she shared a name with one of the world's biggest
GOPAL: Yes, I mean, many of these women have never actually met foreigners, or, as Shakira told me, that she's never met a foreigner who
wasn't carrying a gun.
So their only experienced with the international community is through violence, is through the military. And so it was difficult for me to
actually meet them at first. I had to go through grandmothers, because, in these very conservative, traditional areas, it's very unusual for men,
unrelated men, to speak with women.
And this is unrelated to the Taliban. It's been this way for a long time. And so I first met with some grandmothers, and then they referred me to
other people. And, in time, I met women like Shakira. And every single time I met somebody, I asked them, tell me your life story from the beginning.
And when they did that, I was really shocked. Even as somebody myself who has been covering this conflict for a decade, I was shocked at the level of
violence that they had seen, whether it's airstrikes, or roadside bombs, or kidnappings, or whatnot.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, because so much of war, especially for those that don't live through it, is told through the lens of the good guys and the bad
And one would assume, obviously, that the good guys would be the Americans and allies that come in and support the Afghan army. And it's not as simple
as that. And this is really what gets to the crux of your piece here.
And I want to just read one verse from.
You write: "The Taliban takeover has restored order to the conservative countryside, while plunging the comparatively liberal streets of Kabul into
fear and hopelessness. This reversal of fates brings to light the unspoken premise of the past two decades. If U.S. troops keep battling the Taliban
in the countryside, then life in the cities could blossom. This may have been a sustainable project, but was it just? Can the rights of one
community depend in perpetuity on the deprivation of rights in another?"
I mean, is it really as binary of a choice as that? Are you sacrificing -- or do these women feel that their lives are being sacrificed for the lives
and freedoms of women in larger cities?
GOPAL: You know, every single woman I met, I asked them about women's rights.
I said the United States says that one of the reasons why they have invaded Afghanistan and they support the Afghan government is to bring rights to
women, because, of course, we all know how horrible the Taliban is and was in the '90s with respect to women.
And what surprised me is the women that I met were completely shocked by this. They're surprised by this. They said, how could you consider this
rights? Shakira, for example, the woman that I have interviewed in depth, she's lost 16 members of her family in multiple incident. This isn't in one
It was one family member was shot by a sniper. Another one was killed in a crossfire. Another one was killed by a drone. So it's just tragedy after
tragedy for so many of these women. And so they're asking me, how do you call this rights?
And it's not that they don't support women's rights. I mean, they want rights. They want to be able to educate their children. They want to be
able to have a freedom of movement. But the tragedy of the last 20 years is that that wasn't provided to these women.
Instead, a choice was given that either you have to leave this area, or, if you're going to be here, you're going to be in the middle of a war zone.
GOLODRYGA: And I just want to read for our viewers some quotes that women gave you.
One was that: "They are giving rights to Kabul women, and they are killing women here. Is this justice?"
And another woman said: "This is not women's rights when you are killing us, our brothers, killing our fathers."
And it does lead one to think that these women, women like Shakira -- and you do an incredible job just storytelling and giving us a sense of what
their lives were like from childhood up through becoming mothers and adults. But they, in a sense, are the experts on the ground.
We were talking to experts every single day about what went wrong, what could have gone differently in the war. And these women are experts, if for
no other reason than their main focus was survival, and making sure their families were OK.
And along the way, all of these years, they got to know many of these people on both sides of the Afghan army and the Taliban.
And you said it really well before, which is that we here in the United States or experts who are talking about the conflict tend to think about it
in very simplistic terms. There are terrorists on the one side, and there are the good guys on the other side.
But when you talk to the women, who are the real experts, because they have lived this experience, they will say that the people that we think are the
good guys, in their eyes, act like terrorists. So there was a U.S. ally that I talk about in that piece. His name is Amir Dado.
And he was doing horrific crimes for decades. In the '90s, he was arresting people for having love affairs. In the 2000s, he was rounding people up,
dispatching -- helping the Americans send innocent men to Guantanamo.
So the women here were living in what they described -- it was a word I heard a lot, which was terror, that they were living in a state of terror.
And, for them, the people that we considered the allies were not the allies, were not the good guys.
And if you're in that circumstance, then what you're going to do is try to survive, essentially. And what happened, tragically, is that the Taliban
came into these communities, and the Taliban were repressive and awful towards the communities, but at least they didn't do the horrible things
that the U.S. allies did.
And so the women acquiesced. The communities acquiesced to the Taliban. And that's, I think, a central part of the story for why we saw the sudden
collapse in the last three months of the Afghan government.
GOLODRYGA: And you do note another difference, is -- and that is that the U.S. and its allies, for the most part, tried to not harm civilians, in
that there were warnings given to leave the area if there was going to be fighting or bombing in that area.
But, nonetheless, many were killed at the hands of or by the doings of those in the U.S. side or its allies, because they were fighting the
Taliban, and these families are caught in the middle.
There's another disturbing point you bring up in chapter -- in this story, and that is allegations against the Afghan army. And this is in particular
related to a general named Sami Sadat.
Villagers told you there of a massacre of civilians in retribution really for falling to the into the hands of the Taliban.
One day before this massacre took place, I actually spoke with General Sadat. And I want you to play -- I want to play for you, because you later
played this clip for an Afghan civilian there, but I do want to play for you what you write about in your piece.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMI SADAT, AFGHAN ARMY GENERAL: So, I think that's something that people don't see, but I constantly see the Taliban not being able to have enough
manpower to overrun a city or, even if they have enough manpower, they don't have the discipline, the plan or the unity of command, as it's
needed, for taking a large part of the territory.
GOLODRYGA: You seem very optimistic. And I have to tell you, it's reassuring to hear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And it is interesting, Anand, because, subsequent to that exchange, I did ask him if others were as confident as he appeared to be
about the power of the Afghan army.
And we kept hearing that time and time again. Obviously, we know that that was not the case, and they fell quickly to the Taliban. But in terms of
their brutality, I want to get you to tell us what the Afghan man who you played that clip for said to you in response.
GOPAL: Well, I played this clip to somebody who was from a village in Helmand Province where one of the helicopters belonging to the Afghan army
started to fire seemingly at random at houses and villages.
And one of his relatives actually held up the dead body of his daughter to the helicopter saying -- screaming: "We're civilians. We're civilians."
And, still, the helicopter shot at the family. And so people died. His wife was in a coma. He had another child who died.
And so I was curious to get his reaction, because the narrative that we were hearing in the West was so radically different from what I was seeing
on the ground. So I showed him the clip, and he broke down in tears. And he couldn't understand why this was happening. Why is this person that he sees
as a war criminal being given a platform?
And so he said, why are they doing this to us? Are they trying to mock us?
GOLODRYGA: And the narrative particularly surrounding Sami Sadat was so different in the West as well, and what we had been hearing from multiple
reporters and experts. So this does come as a shock.
I want to tell you about, and I'm sure you have read, Sami has denied this accusation. I know he refused to comment for your article, but he denied
the accusations on Twitter. He said that you didn't communicate with him or his team for a response. And he denies that there even were civilian
What is your response to that? Are any of his statements credible, in your opinion?
GOPAL: Yes, unfortunately, they're not credible at all.
I reached out to him multiple times. "The New Yorker," the excellent fact- checking team reached out to them -- reached out to him multiple times. And he declined to comment.
And the testimonies by people on the ground are overwhelming. And it's not just one or two cases. It was again and again and again that people said
that the Afghan army was committing massacres.
I visited the site of an Afghan army base had been taken over by the Taliban, stripped clean of anything that was militarily useful. And then
the Taliban fighters left. Shortly after that, villagers from the surrounding area descended onto the base to try to find like things that
they could -- meals or scrap metal, whatever they could find, because they're very poor, to try to sell in the market.
And an Afghan army helicopter seen by dozens of people, filmed by people -- those films are available online -- this helicopter attacked innocent
civilians. It attacked a tanker that blew up, and then just bodies started burning. These are horrific crimes that, unfortunately, Mr. Sadat is not
going to be able to hide from.
And the eyewitness testimony is just overwhelming on this point.
GOLODRYGA: Of course, we will continue, as I know you will, to follow up on these stories, horrific scenes that you describe there.
And, obviously, this all comes back to the lives of these women wanting to move forward and take care of their families. You describe them
beautifully, having dreams of their own and ambitions of their own, maybe not akin to those women in larger cities. But, nonetheless, it sounds like
they, like many women around the world, just want peace as well.
Anand, thank you so much. We appreciate it.
GOPAL: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, the impact of the Taliban's return coincides with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
For many Americans and others around the world, it was the first time that they learned about the group and their role as hosts to al Qaeda in
A new TV series from "National Geographic" called nine what "9/11: One Day in America," gives voice to the people who survived the attack on the World
Here's a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would every transmission by saying, I'm coming for you, brother. I'm coming for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're coming for you, brother. They're coming for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is your mother. This is your father. This is a human being.
I felt compelled to respond.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said: "Mom, I just want to tell you I love you."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's how you want people to remember you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we die, we die with them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody's leaving you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And Daniel Bogado, director of "9/11: One Day in America," joins me now from London.
Daniel, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to the program.
I have to say I just get emotional. I have watched a few of those episodes. It's a six-part series. And it does take me back to that day, as it will
for many who watch. And I just happened to be there a few blocks away.
But as somebody who -- and I'm sure I speak for many who say, 20 years now, we have seen and heard so many of the same stories, what more could we
learn? We learn a lot more watching this documentary.
How did you find these stories? And why was it so important for you to tell 20 years later?
DANIEL BOGADO, DIRECTOR, "9/11: ONE DAY IN AMERICA": Well, sometimes, as a director, you have the idea for a documentary series.
In this case, I was approached by a company called 72 Films who had worked together before. And they told me that they had secured documentation for
And the idea was for the first time to do a documentary series which will be all archive-led, which will be several parts, and will bring together
all the most extraordinary, iconic, compelling, as well as known stories of 9/11, and kind of bring them all together as part of this grand narrative.
And I immediately just thought that is a really, really good idea, because there have been -- as you say, there have been a lot of documentaries, a
lot of books, a lot of articles about 9/11. Usually, they focus on one story, one element.
And this was an opportunity to kind of bring it all together. And I think also the fact that it's been 20 years, it means that all the contributors,
all the survivors, all the first responders that we spoke to have had a lot of time to think through, and these experiences they have had.
And so, when we started doing the interviews, we realized that these were very, very powerful. And we started getting a sense that, if we put this
together the right way, it's going to be a very, very powerful series.
And, certainly, the reaction of people who've watched it, that's been it. It's been extraordinary.
GOLODRYGA: And we have read it that those who agreed to participate, those survivors, you actually advised them to take the day off as they came in
for this interview.
I'm just curious, all these years later -- and I know many talk about the therapy that they have had to go through to get them to this point. What
was that day like for them, as they relived those harrowing moments?
BOGADO: Well, it was different for everybody.
But I think, in the vast majority of cases, it obviously was a very emotional day. Sometimes, when you make a documentary, you just kind of
tell people, oh, it will require an hour or two, and you're there to basically get a story, and you go from point A to point B to point C.
But that wasn't just the purpose of this. We wanted it to feel like a much more intimate, like -- almost like a confessional type of experience, and
for the audience to get an unmediated access. So, there is no narration in the documentary.
All the voices you hear are from people who were there on the day and who survived. And very early -- and we explained that to the contributors. We
said to them, we don't want this to be just another documentary. We want is to be a landmark, legacy document, particularly for a young generation who
were not alive at the time.
I think they had time to think about that. And then, when they sat down, they really just bear their hearts out. But the next day, we took duty of
care of our contributors very, very seriously. And we would call to see that they were OK. We encouraged them to bring somebody with them to be
there during the day.
But many of them did find it cathartic. Many of them, especially people who have never told their story before, told us that it felt like a weight had
been lifted off of their chest.
GOLODRYGA: And I don't want to sugarcoat this for our viewers. It is very difficult to watch, obviously, as one would expect. It's told through the
lens of people experiencing something that they say no person should have to witness or see. It's the worst day of their lives.
But many approach it from different perspectives. And I want to play a clip from Kathy Comerford. She worked in the South Tower that day, and she
talks about her escape as she was able to get out of that building.
Let's play this clip. Then we will talk about her some more after.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHY COMERFORD, SEPTEMBER 11 SURVIVOR: When we got down to about the 22nd floor, the integrity of the building was really starting to deteriorate.
And then there was cracks starting in the walls. And we were like, holy crap, we have to get out of here.
And we really started to pick up the pace, like almost running. And all I kept thinking is, this building's not taking me. I'm going home to my kids.
So I kept going and going.
When we emerged out of the building, there was a sense of relief that we were safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Just the fight that she describes and the determination to get home to her kids.
In a separate clip, she talks about the fact that those around her that day were very kind, that there was a lot of kindness, people helping each
other. And she pays tribute to Rick, a man who was head of security of the building, who many credit was saving 2,000 lives, if not more, for
preparing people as best as he could to get out of that building in a time of emergency.
Can you talk more about her and her experience?
I mean, Kathy -- one of the aspects of the documentary is that we did want to cover throughout the six episodes all facets of it. So, we explore the
Pentagon. We explore United 93.
And, on episode two, we explore the South Tower. So, we wanted to explore stories of people kind of who originally thought that the building was
safe, and that they could stay there. And then, when the second plane hit, they understood that they just -- that this was a terrorist attack, and
that they had to get out of there.
And Kathy was a wonderful contributor. And she does speak about the story of Rick Rescorla, who was the head of security for Morgan Stanley. And him
and his team went back into the building to check that everybody had left. And that's when it collapsed.
And I think it -- what you said at the beginning is that the documentary series is hard to watch. We don't try to sanitize it. We do kind of show
why this day was so traumatic for the whole country, and the horrors that it truly entailed.
But that's -- if we just had done that, that would have been just half of the story, because, as we started doing research, all we were interested in
was showing, what is the truth of what happened that day? And as we started looking at the stories and speaking to people who survived that day, these
stories of people helping each other, coming together, solidarity, selflessness, bravery, and courage, they were everywhere.
It wasn't -- everywhere you looked, those were the kinds of stories that you found. So, it was very important for us that the series, as well as
showing the horror, it also showed the humanity that was everywhere that day.
And Kathy, when she comes down, she talks about people just helping each other, about a guy who could not keep walking because -- because of his
leg, and two people just carried him, about a woman who couldn't breathe anymore, and Kathy gave her, her son's asthma medi -- inhaler.
And that, you just saw everywhere. And I think one of the reasons people have a very strong emotional reaction to the series is not just because of
the tragedy that we do show and the horrific things that people witnessed that we also show, but also because of the humanity and the way people came
together, which, when you show it -- when you show both of them, both of them become incredibly emotional, as I think it should be.
GOLODRYGA: And it's one unimaginable terror after another. It's one plane colliding into a tower, then another plane, and the images of those who
jumped from the buildings and what have you.
And then there's the tower of the building falling down itself. And first that was the South Tower. And that was the building the Kathy was in. And
she describes, as she's trying to run out of the building, that she starts to see -- she sees cracks. She knows. And she's not an architect or a
builder, but she understands what she's seeing is not sustainable and it's about to crumble.
And you also show the aftermath from that South Tower falling. Let's show a clip here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's gone, the whole tower! It's gone! Holy crap! It knocked the whole freaking thing down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. I can't see anything. The whole thing went down.
Oh, my God. I saw the building crumble. It's all the way down. I can't see -- I can't see one point it's still standing. Oh, my God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: You know, having been there, I didn't even realize the devastation and how that looked to everyone else around the world.
I would hear later from friends and family that it just appeared that nobody survived in Lower Manhattan, just that that cloud of smoke that was
not survivable. And you talk about, that it's harrowing enough to have to leave a building, and these people think that they have escaped death once,
only to have to run away and escape it again as the building collapse.
What was it that you heard from survivors about that collapse that stood out to you?
BOGADO: Well, one of the moments that most struck me is an interview we did with two paramedics, Jen (ph) and Bonnie (ph), who are featured in the
And one of the things -- we show the footage of the collapse, and then you can see people just kind of running for their lives as the cloud seems to
be chasing them. And it's an extraordinarily horrific thing to see.
And some people then got trapped inside the cloud. And they -- and the story of Jen and Bonnie is, they ran towards a door, but it wasn't a door.
It was glass. And they couldn't break it. And they were together with a whole group of people. And so the cloud was coming and suffocating them.
And I thought it was extraordinary, because, when I saw the cloud, I did wonder what would it be like to have been right inside that. and Jen and
Bonnie were. And they survived, as the series explained, just through a miracle. At the last moment, their life is spared.
And one of the things that really struck me and I really wanted to include in the series is that what actually a lot of people took throughout the
series is what they at the moment thought would be their last thought before they died.
And her thought was that at least her parents would get her body back. And, again, it's just an extraordinary thing. But, also, it kind of shows the
kindness that she's showing towards her own family, so all those kind of things. It's incredibly moving.
But it also tells you a lot about humanity. It tells you a little about people.
GOLODRYGA: And that in what they think could be their final moments, they're thinking about their loved ones. And you're right that that moment
really stood out for me too.
GOLODRYGA: And she said that there was this sort of peacefulness that she felt because, at least, as you said, her body would be intact for her
parents. And, fortunately, her parents never had to endure that pain.
Then there's the aftermath, right? Then there's sort of the dead calm, when the buildings collapsed and the soot sort of settled and the debris
settled. And you have video that that's told, I believe, from Jimmy Dobson, and his perspective as to what it looked like, which really did look like a
war zone in Lower Manhattan.
Let's take a look at the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the time to get out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I came out, it was silence. There was no one calling for anybody. Everybody was gone, almost like the end of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Jimmy was a paramedic there.
And it's a reminder. You pay tribute, without necessarily saying as much, to those who stood there, right, and stayed back and stayed behind, who
either went up the stairs into the buildings, knowing what they -- would likely would be their fate, and those that stayed behind after to help
search for any survivors.
Their stories, all these years later, are still so difficult to hear. I can only imagine how difficult it is for them to continue to tell it.
BOGADO: No, absolutely.
The -- as I said, the interviews were highly -- very, very emotional. And the way we did the interviews, we would try to do, in the room where the
interview is done, to have as few people as possible, so myself or the person asking the questions and the cameraperson.
And there will be another room where you would have the monitors and other producers and so forth would be listening in. And one of the striking
things was how often in that other room everybody would be crying, would just be listening to this interview.
And the contributor would be crying, and the people next door will be crying. And it happened again -- it certainly happened in Jimmy's
interview, because one of the extraordinary things about Jimmy, he became separated from his partner, Marvin.
And he was trapped. And this episode is called "The Cloud," because it looked like Lower Manhattan had become enveloped by this dark cloud. It
looked incredibly post-apocalyptic. And he got out of there. He got out, but, because he didn't have his partner, he decided to turn around and risk
his life and go back to find his friend.
So, again, it's these stories of -- incredibly moving stories of humanity.
GOLODRYGA: Daniel, I just have to say, I was watching this -- and I'm sure many would feel similarly -- seeing my children.
In the one eye, I am watching it, and, in the other eye, I see my 9- and 5- year-old playing. And thank goodness they didn't have to experience that. But we still live nearby and were reminded of that day every single.
And I think you tell this beautifully that it is you -- it is for that generation, for future generations, not necessarily those that lived
through it, right? But for future generations to know what happened that day and why it's so important that we keep telling these stories about
devastation and humanity. Thank you so much for your work.
BOGADO: Thank you so much.
GOLODRYGA: We really appreciate it, Daniel.
BOGADO: Thank you so much.
GOLODRYGA: And we'll have much more on this series tomorrow. We'll hear from Joseph Pfeifer, who was the first New York fire chief to respond on
9/11. Of course, what followed was those attacks -- to those attacks was President George W. Bush's declaration of what he called the war on terror.
But what did the war actually entail and what are the consequences today?
Spencer Ackerman is a long-time national security reporter who has spent years investigating this. In his new book "Reign of Terror", it charts the
9/11 era to stabilize America and produced President Trump.
Here he is talking to Hari Sreenivasan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, thanks. Spencer Ackerman, thanks for joining us.
First, let's pick apart the title a little bit. The second part of the book title, "Reign of Terror" is "How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and
Produced Trump." So, that topline thesis, I mean, you spent an entire 400 pages breaking this down, but for the layman's terms kind of, how do we get
from this era of 9/11 to Trump?
SPENCER ACKERMAN, AUTHOR, "REIGN OF TERROR": So, 9/11 and the war on terror that results from it is a doorway into American history and
particularly, a doorway that opens to the most nativist, the most racist and the most violent elements of American history, and allows those
tendencies in American history to retake power under cover of a national emergency that requires, in the telling of the war on terror, violent
Culturally, it creates an atmosphere of fear, hysteria and anger towards Islam in general and toward American Muslims specifically, and sweeping in
a lot of very extent (ph) and very traditional nativist rage against immigration and the processes that enable it.
And then, once in power, it starts to transform the Americans security apparatus into something far more lawless and far more punitive than recent
history had, even though it builds upon a lot of foundations, particularly mass incarceration, that already exist in American history. And then, the
war starts to go terribly. They start to be very obvious disasters. And for a segment of the population that had their traumatic reactions to 9/11
manipulated, particularly by right wing politicians with the acquiescence of Democratic politicians, this condition becomes kind of intolerable, and
they go searching for evermore civilizational explanations and seek political leadership that will channel that rage. And that is what sets the
stage for Donald Trump.
SREENIVASAN: And you're saying basically that he saw that, understood that, tapped into that, in a way that previous politicians had not?
ACKERMAN: In a way that recognized that the sub text of 9/11, all of this nativism, was not some kind of accident or some kind of unfortunate by-
product, but was, in fact, the heart of the enterprise. And he allowed that to be the script of the kind of polite veneers of euphemism that previous
Democratic and Republican politicians had kind of hinted at but shied away from. Under Donald Trump, the war on terror becomes its most authentic
SREENIVASAN: You know, just the very phrase war on terror, I mean, at one sense it's so vague and shifting that you can't really beat it. I mean,
you're trying to beat fear. And then, in the other sense, you could fashion this war against whatever foe you like.
ACKERMAN: That's correct. The name itself is something of a social compromise. It avoids naming an enemy, which has tremendous potential to
any president that's already empowered, thanks to the 2001 authorization to use military force, however that president wants to define that enemy. So,
it provides enormous opportunity for executive leadership to simply, as the need fits, wreck on who the enemy of the war on terror is, who the
apparatus is aimed at.
But simultaneously, the war on terror is only aimed at Muslims. White terror never has anything to fear from the war on terror. And in that
euphemism, there's lots of opportunity for either challenge from either the socialist left or the nationalist right to say that the euphemism is a
harmful thing. But it's really only the right that gets the chance, particularly under Donald Trump, to replace the terminology outside of
polite social settings with what it believes the war on terror truly is at its heart, a war against what Donald Trump calls radical Islamic terror.
SREENIVASAN: So, you're saying that this is essentially a way for us to sugarcoat that we're really only talking about attacks from Muslim brown
guys from overseas? Because one of the justifications for the intelligence apparatus, the counterterrorism infrastructure that we've built is, hey,
you know what, since 9/11, we haven't had that type of an attack.
ACKERMAN: That's correct. This was never going to be an enterprise that cared a thing about, say, white terror training camps in Northeastern
Oklahoma or the Pacific Northwest or any of the hundreds of militias around the country made up of white people with guns from -- you know, on the
border or in the interior. Those very often, particularly those that view themselves as part of a patriotic legacy within American history and
represented by people in its dominant racial caste, are going to be accustomed by the war on terror and by that history to view themselves as
counter terrorists regardless of the violence that they in fact inflict and the anti-democratic possibilities that they represent.
SREENIVASAN: You are not writing a book that is just taking aim at Republicans. I mean, you spend a fair amount of pages going through ways
that Democrats, liberals have contributed to the security apparatus that we all live under, the surveillance state that we're part of now.
ACKERMAN: That's correct. To tell the story of 9/11 as just a story of, you know, Republicans seeking power and disfiguring the constitution and
culturally, and from a law enforcement perspective, persecuting Muslims is to tell only half the story. The story I tell through the middle of the
book and then the end of the book is a story about democratic and liberal acquiescence and justification of the war on terror, a deep, deep fear,
kind of a hangover of Cold War anti-communism and what that meant for liberalism and for the liberal political coalition of deciding that the
safest thing to do in an atmosphere of inflamed nativism is to simply go along with it so as not to fall in its cross hairs.
Barack Obama makes the war on terror truly forever. He makes it technocratic. He makes it less conspicuous and he maintains it in such a
way that he treats only the Iraq war and CIA torture as really enterprises that ought to be jettisoned and the rest of the enterprise is something
that responsible leadership requires. That, more than any other action, not just makes the war on terror truly forever, but does so by creating a
democratic legacy for the war on terror, and we see that in the people who populate Joe Biden's national security apparatus.
SREENIVASAN: So, what's your laundry list? What are the systems or structures or committees, commissions? I mean, what would you dismantle to
start to take this down?
ACKERMAN: How much time do you have? Yes, I'll answer your question this way. I -- after reporting on this war from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from
Guantanamo Bay, from Washington, from New York, from around the country, from, you know, other parts of the world, I have come to see that there is
no future for the war on terror that can simultaneously be a democratic future, be a future that allows for freedom and dignity not only at home,
The only way of doing that is by breaking the war on terror. Only an abolitionist approach is an approach that can restore what is supposedly
vital about America, and also stop doing this extraordinary amount of harm in the world. We just found from the costs of war project at Brown
University that a very analytically conservative estimate of the cost of the war on terror is 900,000 people dead. That is not something the
political establishment has reckoned with, its responsibility, its culpability and how to make right the fact that so many people over a
generation are dead at the hands of the United States.
And that's not even counting the tens of millions of refugees the United States has created. That's not counting the wealth transfers that the
United States has engendered. The only thing to do at this point is to stop doing harm and start breaking the institutional authorities of the war on
terror, start doing things like dismantling the Department of Homeland Security, abolishing -- act, repealing the authorization to use military
force after 9/11 and really on down the list. You know, withdrawal not only from Afghanistan, but from Iraq, the end of the drone wars, the end of bulk
surveillance, the end not only of Guantanamo Bay, but of indefinite detention.
The legal structures necessary to ensure that all of this ends durably. And then, probably the most fundamentally, the reckoning that Americans need
with the concept of American exceptionalism, the concept that America, by virtue of its virtue, allegedly, has both the right and the responsibility
to police the globe, to build structures around the globe that benefit it, to ensure that it is the actor of history, not the one acted upon.
SREENIVASAN: You spoke to Ben Rhodes, one of the advisers to President Obama, who kind of comes back and says, listen, what if there was -- what
if we did everything that you're asking, Spencer? What if we started to dismantle this apparatus and we had another attack on American soil and
what would we do? I mean, I think that maybe there -- through that answer is implied a political cost, but what about the sort of societal cost?
ACKERMAN: Well, look, what that is really talking about in that moment, and I appreciated the honesty of his answer, is that the political fear of
9/11 that the Democrats display so frequently, both up to that point and beyond, is still very much in effect. Ben is afraid of another terrorist
attack, crippling Obama's presidency. What he is not doing is articulating the rationale that I think, you know, Ben Rhodes in 2021 holds, which is
that if you continue the war on terror, then the democratic erosion is going to be really substantial and it's going to be very scary. And he's
also exempting Obama from having to say how the war on terror in fact ends, if it doesn't end with the killing of Osama bin Ladin. What Ben is further
neglecting is that the war on terror itself generates its own enemies, generates precisely the circumstance he fears.
And then, finally, there has been a tremendous amount of terrorism on American soil. Think about the El Paso shooting, the worst act of anti-
Hispanic violence in the, you know, 21st century and, you know, quite possibly in the 20th century of America. Think about the Tree of Life
shooting, the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in American history, which has specifically sparked by these "replacement fears" after Trump stirs up
fears of the "migrant caravan." And then, also, remember the shooting by Dylann Roof at the Emmanuel Church in 2015. There is a tremendous amount of
terrorism, that is to say violence against civilians for the purposes of advancing a political agenda that the war on terror ignores, the war on
terror doesn't see, and then, finally, ultimately, represents the erosion of America's social fabric, that the war on terror has nothing to say
SREENIVASAN: Is there something to the idea that since we have accumulated the greatest amount of wealth and power and military might, that it is in
lots of people's views our responsibility not necessarily to be the global cop, but to stand up for those rights, those freedoms that we claim to
cherish? Should we not be upset about what's happened in Afghanistan and how the Taliban is going to roll back the civil and human rights of people?
Should we not be fighting al-Qaeda or ISIS anywhere where they gain a stronghold?
ACKERMAN: We should certainly be angry about what we see in Afghanistan, but it's important to be specific about what we're seeing that makes us
angry. What the media portrayal, by and large, of the withdrawal from Afghanistan has accomplished is divorcing the horrors at the Kabul Airport
from the 20 years of war that made the Taliban stronger. It only blamed the United States for these conditions for ceasing the fight the war, rather
than recognizing and contextualizing appropriately that the war made the Taliban stronger and brought the United States to this point.
The best time to leave Afghanistan was always going to be yesterday. The second-best time was always going to be today. The worst time was always
going to be tomorrow. And that's what the coverage -- not just missed, but missed in an important way that demonstrates the problem with the war on
terror broadly, which is that the United States never allows itself to recognize that the war on terror generates its own enemies and makes
Americans less safe. The precise thing that it is trying to avoid.
What really makes the American people safe is not a structure in which wealth and military power determine the order of the world. What makes them
safe is people acting internationally in solidarity with one another to address their actual material needs and historical grievance. That is
safety in an age when, as we are seeing from COVID, as we are seeing from the climate apocalypse that is upon us, actually addresses the real safety
of real human beings.
And then, finally, what it stops us from doing is recognizing that when America is doing harm, it has to stop doing harm. That is an obligation
that America has consistently not just in the war on terror, but throughout American history refused to recognize and refused to provide material
recompense to the people America has harmed.
SREENIVASAN: The book is called "Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump." Author Spencer Ackerman, thanks
so much for joining us.
ACKERMAN: Thank you so much for having me, Hari.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And finally, the power of storytelling from the perspective of a revered storyteller. Sandra Cisneros, author of the acclaimed novel "The
House on Mango Street" has just released a new nobela called "Martita, I Remember You." It's a fictional account of a struggling young writer in
Paris. But the detail sound a lot like Sandra's own life. And she joins me from her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Sandra, welcome to the program.
First of all, I was really surprised to hear this is a story that you began writing in the late '80s, early '90s, and just came around to finishing
now. It gives hope, I'm sure, to many writers out there who are struggling to finish their own work. But why did it take decades to get you here?
SANDRA CISNEROS, AUTHOR, "MARTITA, I REMEMBER YOU": Well, because life happens. You know, you're writing this story and then, it doesn't fit with
the collection you're writing and you put it aside. And then, you want to write a novel, then you want to write poetry, then your mother dies and you
have to deal with that and you move to another country. Life happens like that.
GOLODRYGA: You know, that's a great line to give to another one day, you know what, life happens, I'm sorry, and that's what I'm dealing with. And
we are so fortunate that you waited all this time because you were able to come full circle and approach this story from a more mature and experienced
perspective, and it focuses on the relationship between three women who meet in Paris in their 20s and sort of grow distant. You've decided and
chosen a passage to read for us from the nobela, if you don't mind doing that right now, and we can talk about it after.
CISNEROS: At night, doors slamming. Footsteps in the hall. Someone coughing on the other side of the wall. I never meet any of the neighbors
all the time I'm there. Only footsteps, coughs, an ambulance wailing from a long way off. Somebody's television murmuring a rosary. Martita, I don't
tell you I'm afraid to stay here with the cough on the other side of the wall, the darkness and that hall bathroom. When I have to go make pee in
the middle of the night, I hold and hold and hold it until the next day I have cystitis.
Martita, don't make me laugh or I'll wee-wee the bed, and then what do we do? I'm afraid of the dark. I'm afraid here in Paris. Are you afraid
GOLODRYGA: Why did you pick this passage? I'm just curious. And what story is it telling?
CISNEROS: Well, this is a passage from when the women are sharing a little canoe bed in what Martha calls the black hole of Calcutta, her apartment
that's way in the back and you've got to climb all these dark stairs and you have to share a bathroom. And I felt it exemplified the vulnerability
of when we're young and we're traveling and we have to depend on the kindness of strangers and sleep in strange places, even when we're afraid,
we're trying to be brave.
GOLODRYGA: You know, you tell stories, your books really focus on the Chicana identity, one that is close to you because it is yours. You were
born in Chicago and grew up there and you were born to Mexican parents. And you talk about the struggle that you've had throughout your life of trying
to identify as more of an American, and it really wasn't until you moved to Texas where you lived for many years that you did feel more at home. And
I'm wondering, what was the difference, aside from the cold in Chicago, that the experience in Texas gave you?
CISNEROS: I think it was just the ability to see people who had lived in the Americas for centuries, who had lived in the land that they were
occupying before the United States was the United States, before it was Mexico. People who had roots there, going back to native time. So, you
know, I knew that I felt a little displaced in Chicago and I needed to travel south to feel I was closer to my roots.
And even Texas wasn't enough. I moved even further south, and I'm in Mexico, 100 kilometers from where my grandparents lived before they
immigrated to the United States.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. I love how you said your ancestors called you back to Mexico. And it's so important for you, I know, to be a mentor of sorts to
the Latina community in the United States. And I was really struck by something you said in a previous interview, you said, it's very important
that Latinos read about their history and know who they are so that they can take some pride and dream beyond just minimum wage. And you really put
into perspective this invisible ceiling that many don't realize engulf so many Latinas in this country where even their dreams have limits.
CISNEROS: Well, you know, you have to know who you are, you have to know your history to have pride in who you are. But if you're always relegated
to the margins or the alamo defines who you are or you don't know your story beyond that told to you by the daughters of the Republic of Texas,
you're going to grow up to be a very damaged individual.
I was lucky that my father was a mama's boy and he dragged us to visit his parents in Mexico City every couple of years. So, I got to see Mexico
firsthand. I got to visit it and indirectly learn about its culture without my father intending to. I just was -- a seed was planted within me so that
I knew who I was. I loved being here. And who knew that decades later, as an adult, I would move back because of that love.
So, once you know who you are, someone cannot impose mis-education on you. You know your history. You've seen the pyramids. You know what your people
are capable of, and that gives you an inner core of strength.
GOLODRYGA: And a freedom of sorts. And we should note this book has been released in both English and Spanish. Quickly, my last question for you, as
we always describe America as the land of immigrants, why is it so important for you to hear from writers who are immigrants themselves
telling their stories?
CISNEROS: You know, a writer needs permission to tell their own story. You need to hear from your colleagues or to read a story that makes you run for
your pen, at least this writer does. And so, when I read stories about -- you know, you can be an immigrant from India or someone in Sri Lanka or
something living Katmandu, you know, I find I'm encouraged and given permission and given examples of how to tell my story.
I just finished reading a story about Chinese immigrants in San Francisco yesterday, "Bone," by Fae Myenne Ng. And that story, again, I'm re-reading
it after it came out in the early '90s, taught me and gave me permission how to write in English when characters are speaking another language,
their native language. So, sometimes you just need that.
GOLODRYGA: Proof that you never stop learning. And that is sort of the beauty of life, right?
Sandra Cisneros, thank you so much. Sandra, we appreciate it. Congratulations on the book.
GOLODRYGA: And that is it for now. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from New York.