Return to Transcripts main page
20 Years After 9/11; Interview With Former Afghan Ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani; Interview with Former U.S. State Department Official Lawrence Wilkerson; Interview with FDNY Chief Joseph Pfeifer. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 10, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Up the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a sobering look at how the world has changed, for better and for worse since that fateful day.
I speak to Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan's first female ambassador to the United States, and to Lawrence Wilkerson, aide to the former Secretary of
State Colin Powell, on why he regrets his role in the war on terror.
And how hope curdled into defeat. I reflect on how America's wars squandered global goodwill and restore the Taliban to power.
JOSEPH PFEIFER, AUTHOR, "ORDINARY HEROES": I ran over to the P.A. and I grabbed the mic. And I asked people -- I said: "If you could hold on, just
hold on a little longer, because we're coming for you. We're coming to get you."
AMANPOUR: He was the first fire chief to arrive at ground zero. Now Hari Sreenivasan talks to Joe Pfeifer about sending his firefighter brother into
the North Tower And honoring ordinary heroes.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks and the start of the Afghan war, how's this for progress? Afghanistan's newest Taliban rulers say that women
should skip politics and stick to childbirth. This is the so-called Taliban 2.0, successors of the hard-liners who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden and
who were run out of power by coalition forces after 9/11.
But two decades later, in charge again, they're breaking promises and turning back the clock on reforms. Afghanistan is now one of the very few
countries with no women at all in top government positions. Plus, journalists have been beaten, unauthorized protests are banned, and women's
marches violently broken up.
So how did it turn out this way? And what really has been accomplished by the American intervention?
Roya Rahmani was Afghanistan's first female ambassador to the United States. She left her post in July. And she's joining me now from
Welcome to the program, Ambassador.
Do you remember 9/11, where you were on what you thought that day?
ROYA RAHMANI, FORMER AFGHAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Yes, vividly so.
I was a student at McGill University in Montreal. And when it happened, we knew something big is going to change. And the change was good, because
whatever was happening for so long was not tolerable. It was a moment of hope.
AMANPOUR: How do you describe -- well, how did you feel when you knew America was coming to defeat bin Laden and the Taliban, and now that
America has left and we have just been reporting and you have seen it with your own eyes over the last several weeks what the Taliban has been doing
to roll back any of the gains that were made?
RAHMANI: Well, it is a tragedy, because if you're just going to squander all the gains that we have had over the past 20 years, and then wait for
another tragedy to be engaged, this is a big, historic mistake.
What I'm seeing right now as an immediate effect is, one of the most tangible achievements of the past 20 years, which is the women empowerment
in Afghanistan, is at the completely verge of loss.
There is a rollback, as you mentioned. The Taliban are going back to the same ways that they represented themselves back in 1996.
AMANPOUR: So let's just play a little bit of what the interview was with the Taliban spokesman that set up this idea of women should just stay out
of politics -- and, of course, we know that there are no women in their so- called inclusive government -- and stick to childbirth.
This is what the spokesman said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAYED ZEKRULLAH HASHIMI, TALIBAN SPOKESMAN (through translator): The women protesting in the streets do not represent all the women of Afghanistan.
The women of Afghanistan are those women who give birth to martyrdom, inculcated nation of Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, I guess I just want to ask you to react to that, because it sounds exactly like what we heard back in the late '90s, when they first
And it's exactly the reverse of what the others said, when they came in and gave that first press conference in Kabul, that women would, in fact, be
welcomed in certain jobs and within, as they said all the time, the parameters of Sharia.
Did you expect it to get this bad this quickly?
RAHMANI: Looking at how things have turn so fast rapidly, and so rapidly, in the past few weeks, yes, this is also expected.
This is also an alarm, this is an indication for the entire world that as - - while there are still few cameras left, there are still people connected, this is what they are turning back. Imagine what would happen once you are
all turning off your cameras, and you are moving on to a new subject.
And they are talking right now about women's issues and treating women badly. Maybe their world may not immediately react on that. But what
happens in terms of their ties with al Qaeda, the harboring of terrorism, much more to come the same -- with the rule of Taliban the same way that in
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Rahmani, can I ask you, some reporters, Western reporters have said that, when they visited places outside the urban
cities, perhaps people, women in what was more Taliban territory, the Pashto areas of Afghanistan, that those women that complained a lot about
being treated unequally, they didn't get the same kind of progress that people like you did.
They resented corruption that they could see unfolding on the streets of Kabul, or, rather, in the halls of power. And, indeed, they felt that they
suffered the consequences of the sharp end of America's war, that there was so much killing of relatives. You know because you have witnessed it or you
heard about it yourself.
So many times, weddings and civilians were bombed. And then the U.S. and allies would apologize when it turned out that it wasn't a terrorist group,
as they said.
How much impact did that have on women and those others in the countryside at that time that were the targets?
RAHMANI: Well, the way you described it already has it.
The first thing you said, they complained that they did not access as much progress and opportunities, resources that many others did, including
myself, in the cities. So that is a difficult reality.
And this is also an indication that they wanted that progress, that they wanted the same opportunities. Yes, many things went wrong, and it did not
go the way it should have. Corruption was a big issue. We all know about it.
But when it comes to the issue of killing and conflicts, of course women did suffer firsthand in multiple ways from the continuation of the
conflict. But it was going both sides. As the Afghan forces were bombing and it would go hit the wrong target and -- or the Americans or
international allies did, and, of course, that resulted in terrible miseries for the Afghan people.
The Taliban did the same. They used women, children, their houses, their villages as a shield. They were infiltrated. And people got killed and
suffered from the conflict, regardless of who was perpetrating what.
And also I want to point out that the very recent years, recent months before Taliban's takeover, they were the ones that were causing the
majority of the civilian casualties, the highest number of civilian casualties. They just didn't have a uniform and they wouldn't come forward
and apologize for doing what they were doing.
AMANPOUR: You know, we have talked a little bit about corruption.
It's been published that you yourself were accused of it by certain quarters in Kabul. You have dismissed it. It turns out to be about an
actual wall at the embassy where you were ambassador that was creating -- and it was damaged, and it was neighbors in Washington were demanding that
you fix it.
And, in Afghanistan, it became a viral story because they said you spent too much on it. You have refuted those allegations.
But what do you say about how sensitive ordinary Afghans were about the amount of foreign money that was pouring in and about how so many on the
government side were shaking down ordinary civilians for whatever money, and how such rampant corruption was happening within the government itself
that really can and did shake everybody's faith in the future?
RAHMANI: Well, there are multiple questions in your question and aspects that need to be described.
First of all, let me just tell you that you refer to the allegation against myself. And I would also point out that who brought those allegation? It
was a local media group in Afghanistan, who were told to do so. It was a politically motivated campaign.
And then it has been investigated by another group. Well, namely, "Washington Post," looked into the case and wrote what they found out.
So -- but looking at this issue, the meanness of corruption and how it ate up Afghanistan's potential and really contributed to what we are seeing
today, is because there was -- justice was not served from the outset. The rules and laws were only applicable to those who were not powerful enough,
who did not have a big share in politics or would not threaten the stability or the government or their elements.
If they went after them, they will threaten them. So, the rules and laws never applied to them. And people felt that. This was the reason that the
trust increasingly diminished over the government, over the system and the potential.
And this had, of course, an increasing course, especially as more and more of people in the government, those officials who were involved in
corruption, saw that this is the end of an era, they tried to collect as much as they could and just roll it in their own banks as a result.
One of the things now that shouldn't happen or should have happened is that, as the international -- for the sake of Afghanistan and for the sake
of future, and for the sake of preventing these things from continuously happening over and over, that all the official -- all the Afghan government
officials' accounts should have been audited.
Everybody should have been audited. Their relatives should have been audited to see where the money went. And it is the right of people. It is
their money. As you pointed out, they have been very frustrated.
And, for example, in my case, it became such a big deal because they -- it was portrayed that it was a little, small wall, like the way everybody
perceives a wall, a few bricks over one another, and it would cost the amount that it cost, which, of course, was not the case.
And, anyway, I'm not going to...
RAHMANI: ... details of that.
AMANPOUR: Finally, then, as you look forward, why do you think the government and the forces collapsed so quickly?
Or, rather, why do you think the Taliban was able to take over so quickly and just surprise so many people?
RAHMANI: Well, this was boiling up for several months, as we were -- as early as the beginning of the year, as we saw Taliban gaining more and more
territory, that was -- this was something that could be predicted happening, that was predicted coming.
It was a story that we had seen before, that how quickly then Kabul falls once major provinces are captured by the opposition group. It has happened
over and over.
And what contributed to that? There was a whole array of factors, including the trust that was deteriorated, the lack of leadership or good leadership
in the Afghan government, the -- and then there is also theories and these ideas that there was a deal between the former government of Afghanistan to
hand over the power to them.
I would also add that...
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Roya Rahmani, thank you for join -- yes.
RAHMANI: Yes, there was a big issue with the...
RAHMANI: ... in Kabul.
AMANPOUR: Yes, we have run out of time. I'm sorry.
RAHMANI: It's fine.
AMANPOUR: But we will all be watching how it proceeds in Afghanistan, now that this is -- this reverse has taken place.
And in a moment, I will speak to someone who was right there in the room with top U.S. officials as they planned the war on terror. That's Colonel
Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell.
But, first, some reporting and reflections on how, in fact, we got to this place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This just in. You are looking at, obviously, a very disturbing live shot there. The plane crashed into one of the towers of the
World Trade Center.
AMANPOUR: Incredibly, I did not see the Twin Towers fall in real time or on live television. I didn't see the attack of 9/11 because I was on
assignment in the far-flung West African nation at war and cut off at the time of Sierra Leone.
So, CNN immediately started to try to extract me from there, send me back to base in London, and then deploy me.
In the meantime, we also know, because of the footage that the U.S. forces found in Afghanistan, that Osama bin Laden, whose diabolical plan this was,
had not reckoned with the towers collapsing, the chilling video of him talking to his al Qaeda honchos where he uses hand gestures to mark the top
to bottom of the World Trade Center, not expecting anything below the level of the planes' impact to collapse, is just so stunning to watch 20 years
And the idea, because we couldn't get into Afghanistan at the time, was to try to figure out what the U.S. and the allies would do. So, I got an
exclusive interview with then Prime Minister Tony Blair. After the United States had said, President Bush, that war has been declared on us, NATO
declared Article V for the first time in its history, i.e., on behalf of the United States, an attack on one is attack on all, which meant that they
would respond to this act of war declared on the United States.
TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I do think that the whole of the civilized world will stand together, yes. I think that the whole of
Europe will stand with America on this, because people know that what happened was not just aimed at America. It was aimed at all of us.
AMANPOUR: Just about everybody hoped that it wouldn't come to war. They hoped they could persuade the Taliban to give up Osama bin Laden and avoid
war. Of course, that never happened.
The Taliban didn't. And of course, it got me remembering who the Taliban were. I had the opportunity to watch their rise through Afghanistan. In
April of 1996, I was in Herat as they took over that Western Afghan city.
(voice-over): Today, Herat is ruled by the Islamic fundamentalist group known as the Taliban. It refuses to negotiate with the Kabul government,
vowing only total military victory.
Closing down girls schools has been the Taliban's biggest blow. Education is just for boys, they say. But now boys don't get taught either because
most of the teachers are women. So, classrooms full of idle children wait to take turns with one of the few male teachers.
"We're not learning anything," says 15-year-old Orban (ph), "so we will end up stupid and ignorant."
(on camera): Fast-forward now to November 2001, an air campaign by the United States and allies had ousted now Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
They were on the run.
And here was the man who the West was pinning hopes of leading Afghanistan in a new Taliban-free, terrorist-free, law-abiding, peaceful Afghanistan.
He was Hamid Karzai.
I got his first television interview as he's coming up from Southern Afghanistan through Kandahar, where we stopped to talk. And we used
gaslight to light our little sort of set, because there was no electricity and very little else.
Mr. Karzai, here we are sitting in Kandahar surrounded by tribal elders and leaders.
In about a week's time, you're going to take the helm of a new government for Afghanistan, an interim government. What is going through your head
HAMID KARZAI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: It's an exciting time. It's a new beginning for Afghanistan.
If the world does not pay attention to Afghanistan, if it leaves it weak, and basically a country in which one can interfere, all these bad people
will come again.
AMANPOUR: Karzai then, of course, was talking about how the United States and the world shifted its attention from Afghanistan after the Soviet Union
was defeated there.
This is where an invading Soviet army met its final test and lost. It is where a superpower and the Cold War began to die.
But what truly sparks the beginning of the end of the right kind of American and other attention Afghanistan was the Bush administration's
determination to expand what was a legitimate response to an act of war to a global war on terror, that they insisted, wrongly, as it turns out,
Saddam Hussein in Iraq was unfinished business from the first Gulf War.
They insisted that he was somehow connected to 9/11. Then they insisted that he had active weapons of mass destruction, even nuclear. Wrong again.
Nonetheless, the Bush administration now squandered all that goodwill that its allies had shown and coming to his defense in Afghanistan by insisting
on going off somewhere else.
Only this time, neither allies like Chirac or adversaries, it turns out, like Putin supported an expansion of this war.
And on the eve of the Iraq War -- that would be March of 2003 -- I sat down with the French president, who explained why, and who, in all these years
later, has been proven right and prophetic.
JACQUES CHIRAC, FORMER PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): We just feel that there is another option, another way, a less dramatic way than
AMANPOUR: On the eve of what looks like war, what do you have to say to President Bush, who you call a friend?
CHIRAC (through translator): I just want to tell him that I don't share his views, that I don't approve of his initiative.
AMANPOUR: What would have happened if they're taken Chirac's advice on the eve of the 2003 war?
A friend was trying to tell them to give it a bit more time, find a bit more evidence. Maybe they wouldn't have encountered this terrible debacle
in Iraq. Maybe they wouldn't have precipitously retreated and withdrawn and seen the rise of ISIS in Iraq, which then took thousands more U.S. troops
to combat ISIS.
And what would have happened if they hadn't withdrawn totally and chaotically from Afghanistan? But they have. And the Taliban is back and in
(voice-over): The future lies with the generation of Kalashnikov-toting illiterates, and the world has one more wasteland whose people were good
enough to fight its war, but not worth the effort for peace.
(on camera): Twenty years later, it's come full circle. And it is actually a 180-degree circle, certainly from what I witnessed, back to hell.
AMANPOUR: So, what now of America's place and its role in the world?
As I mentioned, retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson was chief of staff to the former Secretary of State Colin Powell. And he helped prepare
him for that now infamous 2003 speech at the U.N. Security Council, where Powell, falsely, it turns out, claimed that Saddam Hussein had those
weapons of mass destruction.
And that, of course, led the U.S. into Iraq and left Wilkerson with a lifetime of regrets.
And he's joining me now from Falls Church, Virginia.
Lawrence Wilkerson, welcome to our program.
I wonder what you think, had that road that wasn't taken been actually taken, that the advice of Chirac had actually landed on willing ears in the
White House, in Downing Street and elsewhere, and that they hadn't precipitously gone into Iraq. Do you think that was possible? And would it
have made a significant difference?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF STAFF: It would have made a huge difference, personally for me, and I think
overwhelmingly for the Levant, for America, and for, ultimately, liberal democracy in the West.
We started something in the Levant with our invasion of Iraq. But we started something that stretched from the Red Sea to Afghanistan. And we
started something that came back, ricocheting mightily in our own backyard, with torture, with destroying our reputation that we built up so
painstakingly since World War II.
And then we did that, essentially, as I look back on it, because we did something that war theorists and others have advised strenuously not to do,
and that is to make national security decisions, in this case, fateful decisions, decisions that will send young men and young women to die, to
make them in a sense of rage and fear, and not calm and deliberate -- deliberateness.
That's what we did. We had an inexperienced president. We had a Machiavellian vice president who was allied with a Machiavellian secretary
of defense. We had a secretary of state who was caught in the middle and couldn't seem to break out of the national security adviser, Dr. Rice, who
sided with the president more often than not.
And we had a situation of rage and fear that was dealt with like it was rage and fear, without deliberation, without calmness. President Bush
actually asked an evangelical group to come meet with him in the Oval Office and help him restrain his rage.
He wanted their Christian demeanor to help him restrain his rage. That's not the way to make national security decisions.
AMANPOUR: Colonel, that's really an incredible story. I don't think I'd heard that story before.
But I want you to perhaps relate it to when the president, after a few days of trying to keep a lid on, I guess, rage and trying to keep a lid on
national anger, went to Ground Zero. And, there, he started to feel the crowd kind of getting angry. And that famous clip of him getting up onto
the rubble, hand around the shoulder of the fireman there, and with the megaphone answering the people who demanded he said something strong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can hear you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BUSH: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BUSH: And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CROWD: USA! USA! USA! USA!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I wonder what you thought then and what you think now seeing it, and how formative was that in what you're describing as this very rageful
and furious feeling, clearly, having been attacked?
WILKERSON: You picked a superb point to explain what happened there.
And I have had 400-plus brilliant students on two university campuses doing case studies on this for the past 16 years. And they have taught me as much
as I have taught them.
That was the transformation moment. That personified what happened then. Then domestic politics became as much a part of the rage and fear and,
therefore, the reaction as what had actually happened was.
And by that, I simply mean, as LBJ in 1965, when he knew, "Old Ho ain't going to be moved by no bombs" -- that's a direct quote -- and yet still
went to 500,000 in Vietnam because he knew if he cut and run from Vietnam, he would not be able to get his Great Society legislation through and so
Domestic politics then took over for George W. Bush. His poll ratings went to 89, 90 percent. And Karl Rove told him -- I overheard him telling Ken
Mehlman this in the Indian Treaty Room -- "If we milk this right," meeting the terrorist war, "we will be in power for a long time."
And George Bush actually saw himself as being better than daddy, better than George H.W. Bush, because he'd get reelected in 2004 by using this
And then, when it died down to a certain extent, he needed to extenuate it. He needed to make it more than it was. So we went to Iraq.
This is the essence of the decision-making in the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld and, I'm sad to say, Powell administration.
AMANPOUR: Clearly, history has come down on your side and on the side of all the critics of the Iraq War.
But I do want you to make a differentiation, if you can and if you feel that way, that also most of the so-called civilized world, as Tony Blair
put it, the prime minister, also believed that, when you are attacked on your homeland, you have no choice but to respond. The U.N. even empowered a
It was considered. That's what you do. When an act of war is declared on you, you avenge it, and you take out the enemy, which was Osama bin Laden
hosted by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
You were on board that far, weren't you?
But, as you know, we didn't take out Osama bin Laden, the principal objective, until many years later. And we took him out, interestingly
enough, in those who developed the Taliban, the godfather of the Taliban, in the first place, the Pakistanis, in particular, the ISI, the Inter-
Services Intelligence group in Pakistan.
And you also -- I think you have to grasp it in terms of the two major regional contingencies, Afghanistan and then Iraq.
Have we gone to Afghanistan as indeed power was recommended because he knew, he'd been chairman when we cut the services by 25 percent and that
they (INAUDIBLE). He knew that we couldn't do Afghanistan and Iraq, two major regional contingencies simultaneously. So, he let Bush know that. Of
course, Chaney rebuked him because he told him, putting his finger in his chest, you are not the chairman anymore. Not the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff. You are secretary of state now. So, stay out of military business.
Nonetheless, he offered his advice. And it was, you can't do these two things at once. So, if you are going to do it right, you need to get out of
Afghanistan. And as it turns out, I think it would have been a much better decision to spend a six-month to a year period in Afghanistan teaching the
Taliban a lesson, get as much of al-Qaeda as possible and then leave.
If you are going to Iraq, you needed to do that. Well, that assumes that it's right to go to Iraq. And of course, I don't think it was. But
militarily, if you are going to do it, that was what you should do. And we didn't. We compounded our strategic error by staying in Afghanistan and
taking on Iraq too. And by the way, we didn't just take on Iraq, we took on Syria, took on Libya, we took on Somalia and a few places I can't even talk
AMANPOUR: So, then, let me ask you because we're faced now, 20 years later with what many have described as full circle, re-empowering, handing over
just about under the guise of negotiations in Doha, totally it seems on the Taliban's terms that country back to the Taliban. What do you think is
going to be the result of that? I mean, I could ask you what you think about that, but I think I understand. What is going to be the result of it
in terms of Afghanistan, in terms of America's place in the world and future foreign policy?
WILKERSON: We have two alternatives as I see it. There are permutations of each. But basically, they are what I think we'll do because we have become
an empire without restraint. The first one is what I think we'll do, and that is that we will fund and support anybody in the area who wants to
overthrow the current Taliban government.
We'll create six or seven new Lions of Panjshir, if you will. What we should do is get with Sergey Lavrov, get with Wang Yi (ph), get with their
equivalents in Iran and in the surrounding countries, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and sit down somewhere and talk about what we're
going to do for Afghanistan now that none of us have done to this point. And, of course, you've got to bring Pakistan in there and you have to bring
them in there, sort of with one arm around their back and twist it hard.
You have got to get these people interested in an Afghanistan that is stable, an Afghanistan that is largely peaceful and not a haven for
terrorists, and I think everyone has an interest in that from the Chinese to the Russians and all around the borders, and do something decent for
once. Use your good offices. Use diplomacy, use economic and financial power. Release their reserves, for example. As I understand it right now,
they can't even touch their reserves, the Taliban. They can't do anything, really, to function as a government if its surrounding countries and us
don't allow them to do so and we are primarily the country that needs to help them because we own so much of the world banking system. That is what
we should do.
Will we do it? I would be very surprised if we take that approach. I think we'll probably take the first approach.
AMANPOUR: I wonder whether, you know, I think certainly the West has talked about trying to help the Afghan people but look at the evidence they
are faced with every day now, the Taliban, just like essentially throwing it in their faces with everything they do against women and the rest. So,
that's an interesting concept.
You know, President Biden has suggested that the years of American empire, trying to remake other countries in America's image is just over. And
others have pushed back, saying, well, we do need to actually defend those very important values that we, America, helped build and defend since the
end of World War II.
So, what is the middle ground there? What is the third way? Do you see a third way between military intervention everywhere and nothing?
WILKERSON: I think there has to be. And I think it is the Aristotle's moderation in all things, if you will. Let me just back up for a second.
The person, the entity, the state entity, in particular, the empire, the imperium that has done the most damage to liberal democracy in the world
today is the United States of America from one end of the globe to the other.
Polls now show that better than half of the world's 7, 8 billion believe the greatest to their future and their children's future is the United
States of America. This comes from bombs dropping on innocent Palestinian children, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Syria, to Libya, to Somalia, you name
it, it comes as all of that. We have done as much of torture. We have done as much damage to our reputation and the world view of us as any other
That said, we do have to find that middle road that you've just described, and I applaud President Biden for saying to the military who were against
this, you will note they have already started their campaign on stabbed in the back. It is not stabbed in the back. It is not Harry Summers in
Vietnam, we never lost on the battlefield. It is the mantra of, oh, this was a political defeat not a military defeat. Oh, tell me that, generals.
All you generals who were in Afghanistan all this time and never once objected to the expenditure of money, blood and treasure or anything else.
This is an incredible indictment of the Pentagon.
And yet, we've got this rising up, if you will, of against the political decision to get out. We got out and I applaud President Biden for that. But
now, as I said, we can't just abandon them and we can't resume that Jimmy Carter support that Mujahideen, the Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Ronald Reagan
idea of let's overthrow everything over there as long as it doesn't agree with us. We've got to become a more competent power if we're going to
maintain our empire, and we particularly have to be more competent on the periphery of that empire where other people, like the Chinese, have a
prerogative, have a right to do what they are doing, like the Russians and so forth.
I'm no fan of Putin. I'm no fan of Xi Jinping. But I will tell you that we've got to learn to live with these empires, these near empires, if you
will, and we've got to learn to use diplomacy more often than we use military power, bombs, bullets and bayonets. I -- that is going to be a
tough lesson to learn because look at the money we've spent. We have spent counting the cost of taking care of our bedrooms, almost $7 trillion over
the past 20 years. Imagine the opportunity cost of that.
AMANPOUR: Maybe diplomacy is going to be, you know, the way out of this. We'll see. Fascinating insights, Colonel Wilkerson. Thank you very much
indeed for being with us on this anniversary coverage.
And our next guest has an extraordinary personal story. The FDNY chief, Joseph Pfeifer, on the morning of 9/11 led his firefighters to investigate
the smell of gas in Downtown Manhattan having no idea what would come next.
Joe documented his account as the first fire chief at Ground Zero. And his memoir, "Ordinary Heroes." And spoke to Hari Sreenivasan about the day
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Christiane. Chief Joe Preifer, thank you so much for joining us.
You know, it was by coincidence that there was a pair of brother filmmakers who were following you along on this day. And you were out for what seemed
like a routine gas leak inspection out on the streets when this happened. Take us back to that moment when you heard the first plane.
JOSEPH PFEIFER, ASSISTANT NEW YORK FIRE CHIEF (RET.), AUTHOR, "ORDINARY HEROES": We were at an ordinary emergency in the street, an odor of gas,
which turned out to be nothing. And then, at 8:46, we heard this loud noise of a plane coming overhead, which you never hear in Manhattan because of
the tall buildings. And then I see this plane racing south along the Hudson River so low that I could read on the fuselage of the plane the word
American. It disappeared behind some of the taller buildings. And then, when it reappeared, I saw the plane aim and crash into the World Trade
SREENIVASAN: You get in there and, as we see in the film and as you describe in the book, it is a surreal landscape because there is already
broken glass everywhere on the ground. There are teams of firefighters coming in. They are kind of waiting for orders because the elevators don't
work. There are full of jet fuel and you already have burned people in the lobby. And you are giving orders to these young men to, what, start
climbing the stairs, 70 flights to start rescuing people.
PFEIFER: My orders, as they came up to me, were two things. To go up and by climbing the narrow stairs, as you mention, because the elevators were
not working in the North Tower. And as they were climbing up, I asked them to evacuate the building. Go up to the upper floors. We will regroup and
then we'll push up further to reduce those that were trapped by fire and by smoke.
SREENIVASAN: One of these people that you gave that order to is your little brother, Kevin.
PFEIFER: My younger brother came in a little bit before 9:00. And he came up to me without saying a word. We looked at each other wondering if each
of us was going to be OK. And then, like I did for the other fire officers, I ordered him up to evacuate and rescue. He slowly turned around and took
his engine company, Engine 33. And when he left the lobby, that was the last time I saw my brother, Kevin.
SREENIVASAN: There are moments in -- if people haven't seen the film or read your book, there are moments that are really difficult for people to
imagine. And one of them is and one of them is the sound outside that sounds like a ton of bricks or a car has just fallen from the sky. What
were those sounds?
PFEIFER: Those sounds of a wild thud and it was crashing on top of a plexiglass canopy that was at the entrance of the -- to the lobby of the
North Tower, and it very, very loud and it kept happened. Those sounds was the sound of people jumping. And each thud meant another life being
extinguished. And I was so frustrated at one point, I ran over to the P.A. and I grabbed the mic and I asked people, I said, if you can hold on. Just
hold on a little longer because we're coming for you. We're coming to get you. But I only could imagine what that must have been like.
SREENIVASAN: There are moments where -- when the tower that you were not in collapsed. The debris comes in to where you are. You are all running.
And it makes it absolutely pitch black. And by coincidence, there is a camera around. You just hear muffled voices. What were you thinking at that
PFEIFER: At 9:59, we heard this rumbling sound. And if you are watching on TV, you knew that was the South Tower collapsing. I had no idea what that
sound was. It sounded like I was standing underneath a train trestle where a train is coming overhead and gets louder and louder and dissipates. But I
thought something was crashing into the lobby, maybe down the elevator shaft or to the windows from above. Really, I thought we were the only ones
And then, the lobby goes completely black where we couldn't see anything. And the chiefs I was with are saying, we got to get out of here. Which is a
good decision. We can't command where we couldn't see each other. But I knew how to get out of here. I've been in this building hundreds of times.
So, that, again, gave me a moment to deliberately think, if we have to get out of here, what do I have to do right this moment? And I got on the radio
and I said, command to all units in tower one, evacuate the building.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PFEIFER: Command post from tower one to all unit, evacuate the building. Command post to all units --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PFEIFER: So, I was pulling my firefighters out. Perhaps the first time in history, which so many people still in the building.
SREENIVASAN: You write that in the book. I mean, never in the history of the FDNY had chiefs made the decision to abandon a burning building with
over a thousand people in it. And this is just minutes after. Your own -- through your own frustration, you got on the public announcement system and
said, we are coming.
What is that moment like knowing that you are the person that gave these people hope and at the same time to help save your own firefighters and
anybody else possible, you are telling them to stop doing that job and leave the building?
PFEIFER: At that moment, I still had no idea that a skyscraper just collapsed. What I was trying to do is that something really went wrong, I
don't know what it is. Let's pull our firefighters out, regroup and then go back in. Little did I know that we only had 29 minutes between the two
PFEIFER: I want to ask a little bit about just sort of the aftermath of all this. I mean, first of all, tell us what Kevin was like.
PFEIFER: Kevin was more fun than me. He loved the sense of adventure. He had his -- he shared a private plane, where he flew. A little Cessna. One
propeller. And I didn't go on the plane with him. I was one of the more cautious. But he also had an 18-foot Hobie cat. And we went sailing in the
ocean and the bay around New York City. And there is a place called Avalanche, which is just at the tip of the Rockaways where out in the ocean
it is like a sand bar and then there is breakers.
And with the Hobie cat and with the two pontoons and the huge sail, we were surfing waves with a sailboat in the ocean screaming at the top of our
lungs, go faster, go faster. So, he was definitely more into adventure. But I would join him every now and then, at least in the sailing.
SREENIVASAN: He was one of so many of the firefighters that you knew that you lost. You were only one of four surviving battalion chiefs. I mean,
this practically wiped out some of the senior leadership in the FDNY in just one event.
PFEIFER: We lost 19 battalion chiefs that day. We lost our chief of department. A number of assistant chiefs. We lost the top of the
department. And not only did we have to rebuild the department, but in the moment, we had to build a command structure from nothing because our top
leaders were all killed. And what I saw was our deputy chiefs taking command just by the virtue of who they are. And the site was divided into
four quadrants. And I can remember people hearing their voices from different quadrants and people trusting them.
So, command was established are from the bottom up, not from the top down, because they were all dead.
SREENIVASAN: What is hard to imagine is the layers of trauma that the firefighters and the first responders were dealing with. Because it wasn't
just the singular event on that specific day. For weeks and weeks and months there were firefighters, including yourself, spending at times 18
hours a day looking for their loved ones. You looking for your brother and finding all kinds of things that I don't think most of us even want in our
PFEIFER: Certainly, the months after, and we spent nine months at the site, it wasn't closed until May 30, 2002 when we were down literally at
the bottom of the pile. But I think we go through a process of resilience. And not just the first responders and the firefighters, but everybody. And
the first thing is coming together. For us, it was the fire house. It felt comfortable being with fellow firefighters. But we also saw in the street
people coming together and making a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers, and pictures of lost loved ones because we didn't want to go
through this trauma alone.
And then, what we do is like we're doing today. We tell stories. And for me it was reflecting on the past. But we can't stay there. We have to envision
a new future, to turn those traumatic memories into hope. And for me, that was working in the fire department with a new purpose, to be their chief of
counterterrorism and emergency preparedness. A title which I literally made up. It didn't exist before. So, that we can work with multiple agencies.
So, I think those things is what we went through after 9/11 and so many of our firefighters went through that process, as well as the people
throughout the country.
SREENIVASAN: If you don't mind, can you tell me what is the process like when they've found your brother? What went through you, what happened on
PFEIFER: It's a very personal story. On Super Bowl Sunday 2002, I was called to the site. I happened to be working that day, by chance. And they
wouldn't tell me where I was going. Which is kind of strange. Or what I was going to do, rather. But I knew, since they didn't tell me, that they found
And I came to the site. And they had him in a Stokes stretcher. And they knew it was Kevin because on the back of his turnout coat it said Pfeifer.
And there was an American flag covering it. And myself and members pulled from Engine 33, we carried him out of the pit of Ground Zero into a waiting
balance. And I could remember being in that ambulance and it was the saddest day of my life sitting next to him in the -- on the squad bench
while he was on the stretcher. And I remember tears running down my face and seeing the engine with flashing lights behind the ambulance in the spot
my brother used to sit.
But then, all of a sudden, I felt this sense of warmth, almost like a warm breeze. And I started to remember the times we sailed together. And I went
from this intense sadness to memories of joy. And that is how I remember my brother. And I'm very fortunate that I had that opportunity to have that
long ambulance ride from Ground Zero to the morgue at Bellevue Hospital.
SREENIVASAN: It seems for a lot of people that that was the last time that Americans set aside politics genuinely and came together for something. And
we've had multiple presidents and we've had this war that's gone on for so long. And we've just had a lot of people tearing each other down. What can
you say from your life experience about how you have survived this, how you have stayed optimistic through this that we can learn from, this resilience
that you have? How do we get some of that?
PFEIFER: I think we get it by trying to connect back to that spirit we felt 20 years ago. All of us felt this sense of unity, of nationalism, of
actually being part of a global community. And it wasn't just a thought in our minds, we felt it in our hearts. And I think this 20th anniversary,
more than any other anniversary, I get the sense, since we're so fragmented now, that we want to come back to that spirit that we can do this together.
I mean, we're going to face other terrorist events, climate change events, the pandemic we're in. And I think the anniversary is a moment for us to
feel that sense of unity and take it from 20 years ago and to apply it today and the to make a difference in each other's lives.
SREENIVASAN: Chief Joe Pfeifer, thanks so much for sharing your story. And our condolences to your family.
PFEIFER: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And Chief Pfeifer gets the last word. There is nothing else to say.
That is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.