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Russian Threat to Ukraine; Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC). Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 17, 2022 - 13:00:00 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.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): We're not giving up. We're going to fight and we plan to win.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): A rousing call to action voting rights from Representative James Clyburn. But on this Martin Luther King Day, I ask him
why the dream is yet to be fulfilled.
Then, political turmoil in Ukraine, as the threat from Russia builds. I speak to American and European experts on the security stakes for the
Western alliance and why the West is in no rush to welcome Ukraine into NATO.
AZMAT KHAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": What happened was not the liberation of Mosul. It was the destruction of humanity.
AMANPOUR: Hari Sreenivasan speaks to "New York Times" investigative reporter Azmat Khan about the true toll of America's air wars.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It's Martin Luther King day in United States, a day to pause and reflect on the unfinished work of racial equality. But with critical voting rights
legislation likely to fail in the Senate, blocked by unyielding Republican obstruction and internal Democratic dissent, the family of the late civil
rights leader asked that there be no celebration without legislation.
King's family challenges President Biden and Congress to muscle the voting bills through, just as they came together behind an infrastructure bill
last year. The president just had the week from hell, it must be said, with voting rights all but dead in the Senate, his economic agenda blocked, and
Democrats facing a wave of anger and frustration heading into the 2022 elections.
Now, South Carolina Representative and House Majority Whip James Clyburn played a key role in helping Joe Biden win the Democratic nomination, and
he is not ready to give up on voting rights legislation.
James Clyburn, welcome back to our program, and we wish you a very happy and productive Martin Luther King Day.
But it must be said that it couldn't be at a worse time right now with what I have just laid out, this voting rights legislation destined to fail in
the Senate tomorrow.
CLYBURN: Well, first of all, thank you very much for having me and happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to you as well.
It's a tough time, no question about that. But we have had tough times before. I remember back in 1964 a very comprehensive civil rights bill
trying to get through to Congress. Lyndon Baines Johnson, also a product of the Senate, could not get the legislation through.
So they took voting out of it. They took housing out of it. They stripped it down to basically discrimination in the private sector. Now, that
But, today, people look back and they look at voting, which did not come until '65, and housing did not come until '68. And all of that is because
people did not give up. And we not get what we need to keep this democracy afloat tomorrow or the next day, but we are going to keep pressing forward.
And, hopefully, Dr. King's words will come to have real meaning with a lot of people. Those words, in his letter from the Birmingham City Jail, you
may recall, he was talking about the people of ill will making a much better use of their time than the people of good will.
We saw the people of ill will effectively using their time on January 6. Hopefully, the people of good will belly up to the bar, so to speak, and
really start using their time much more effectively. And, if they do, we will get this done.
AMANPOUR: OK, so let me follow up on what you just said, what Martin Luther King said, and you hope people of good will belly up to the bar.
They seem to be bellying away pretty from the bar pretty fast, and Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin and the others.
But this is what Martin Luther King Jr. said about this very issue, including, the filibuster back in 1963, when the legislation was stalled,
as you mentioned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators
who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You know, that was 1963.
And it is the same story today. Indeed, Bernice King, Reverend King's daughter, tweeted that sound bites and attached pictures of Senator Mitch
McConnell, a Republican, and Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat.
And you know that the family is not happy at all with President Biden on this issue.
CLYBURN: Well, that's my point.
The fact of the matter is, if you were to go on in that speech, he talked about the moderate, and while moderates were not really being realistic
about what they're -- they ought to be doing.
And so I think that that's what I'm talking about today. Now, the president has been pressing this issue. He doesn't have a vote in the Senate. And we
have got two senators on the Democratic side. And I'm not too sure it's only two. There are two that everybody's focusing on. But I have been
talking to some senators, and I'm not too sure that we don't have some others who are hiding behind these two.
So, sorry, Representative Clyburn, you're saying it could be even worse than just two Democratic senators? There could be more who refuse their
CLYBURN: I don't know if they refuse the president, but they're sensitive to this filibuster.
I have been talking to them. And I do not like the idea that people feel that they can make a work -- get a work-around of the filibuster in order
to pass the budget. We just raised the debt limit. Didn't get rid of the filibuster to do that. They found a way to work around it.
So you can't get away to work around preserving voting rights, the foundation upon which a democracy is built? This is about protecting the
vote. We see states passing laws that make it illegal to give somebody a bottle of water waiting to vote, to pass laws to allow a nullification of
the results of a vote.
That's the kind of stuff that Third World countries dedicate themselves to. That's the kind of stuff that lead to dictatorships, autocracies.
Well, I'm glad you brought it up, because let me tell you, sitting here in London, and being aware of what the world thinks and how it looks at the
United States, it is pretty awful to think that your country is so close to dissing the most fundamental aspect of any democracy.
And historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and others have said, without the right to vote, well, you might as well kiss your democracy goodbye, to
which end, President Biden is getting increasingly strident on this issue in the right way. This is what he said recently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the -- on the side of
Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Do you agree with how he framed that, and it's that stark, between the civil rights or the segregationists?
CLYBURN: Absolutely, I do.
And I am a little bit upset with those people who cannot see the efficacy of that comparison. If you are telling me that you are going to allow a
little committee created by a state legislature to overturn, nullify, if you please, the results of elections, and you are going to say that's not
an apt comparison, that's exactly what it is.
Jefferson Davis led an insurrection against this country. These people were talking about are sympathizers of the insurrection that we had on January 6
last year. You're talking about a president, former president of the United States who supported that insurrection.
That is an apt comparison.
AMANPOUR: And now we hear, in fact, that, I mean, those who do investigation into the Justice Department, that there may not be an effort
under way to probe the president, the former president, or his underlings who carried out his wishes that day on January 6, that those ringleaders
may not be investigated.
I wonder what you make of that.
CLYBURN: Well, that will be a shame. I have not heard that. I hope that's not the case.
If you have got a group of people out here, whatever they may call themselves, who led an insurrection against the United States of America to
try to overturn a fair and legitimate election, and you're not going to pursue that -- these 11 indictments that I have seen, it seems to me that
they're going after the leaders.
CLYBURN: And I saw the attorney general coming out saying, these are not the last of these indictments.
So I don't know where it's coming from that he's not going to pursue that. I would hope that's not true.
AMANPOUR: You mentioned local officials who attempted -- who were pressured to try to overturn the legitimate election of 2020.
I spoke to a local Republican official, Kathy Bernier. She's a state senator in Wisconsin, and she will not run again for certain reasons. But
she also very concerned about the attempt to mess around with local election rules.
This is what she told us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE SEN. KATHY BERNIER (R-WI): And my concern is, this is going to be that kind of business as usual. In the next presidential election, they
will find some reason to assume that the president who was elected by the people is not legitimate.
And so we're on a slippery slope in this republic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So the reason I wanted to play that and ask you is because you have obviously seen the articles as well that there seems to be some kind
of split within Democrats as to which path to follow, voter rights or vote counting?
And what do you make of that? Is there an actual choice to be made?
CLYBURN: No, there's no choice to be made.
Counting the votes of the presidency, Electoral Count Act, it's got nothing to do with state legislatures, with the Congress, with the United States
Senate, with school boards, county commissions. All of these are elected officials.
I have never seen a president go to a school board meeting here in South Carolina. But what we have seen are, state legislatures are now saying, if
they don't like the outcome of a school board election, they got this committee over here that can nullify the vote.
So this is not the same thing. And I don't want anybody equating what we're talking about to the electoral count thing. That comes up every time you
have a presidential election every four years. That doesn't apply to anything else. That's the problem.
AMANPOUR: But you are hearing that, right? I mean, these reports are coming out in major U.S. newspapers about a bit of a existential shuffle on
-- in Congress and amongst Democrats on what to press most for. Are you hearing that?
CLYBURN: Sure I have heard that.
CLYBURN: I have heard it from everybody that understands how the process works.
The people who are making reports -- I have also heard the former president of the United States refer to the media, the press, if you please, as the
enemy of the people.
CLYBURN: Come on.
And we need to be pushing back from that sort of stuff. I have said to people I don't like everything I see written about me in the press, but
they are not the enemy.
AMANPOUR: Right. .
CLYBURN: They are there to inform the people.
And just because a former president who sees himself as an autocratic leader who should not abide by the results of legitimate elections, we have
got to push back from all that. It just can't be us Democrats. It's got to be everybody.
AMANPOUR: Right. Well, that's the issue.
So I guess, because you're a Democrat, let me ask you to react to this abuse. You have obviously seen the polls, but let me read them out for our
viewers. Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed President Biden's approval rating at just 33 percent, which is down from a pretty bad
36 percent in November.
This is reflecting the frustration amongst people who see that, while he did, as we know, passed a bipartisan infrastructure law, a COVID relief
package, mounting frustration over other things, including this voting rights conundrum.
Is there time and what is the route towards changing the -- how those polls look, certainly before the midterm elections?
CLYBURN: Stay the course.
I can take you back to polls when Bill Clinton was in office and Barack Obama was in office. We all saw how low the polls going into the 2012
elections. He stayed the course. Bill Clinton had stayed the course. Harry Truman stayed the course.
There's always going to be people who are going to oppose these kinds of progressive efforts. And there will be people who are progressive who don't
think we are moving fast enough.
I also saw in the polls that his favorability rating among blacks was 56 percent. That's because things are moving too slow for a lot of black
But that's not the way they feel about this president. They're expressing their feelings at that particular point in time about a particular issue,
which, at this point, is voting.
AMANPOUR: OK, so let's end this conversation by -- with some personal reflections.
You obviously met Dr. King many times, the first time in 1960. And, as you have said, he was beset by many, many setbacks. So, for you, where does the
hope come from? Where does the -- I guess the struggle or the strength to keep struggling come from?
CLYBURN: Well, I would say to anybody who's struggling with this, go and get King's letter from the Birmingham City Jail. Print that letter out.
Sit down and read it and see what was going on in Birmingham at the time he wrote that letter. At the time he wrote that letter, less than 3 percent of
African-Americans in the whole state of Alabama were registered to vote. He didn't let that discourage him. He kept pressing forward.
And so that was '63 when he wrote that letter, '64 when we passed the Civil Rights Act, '65, we passed the Voting Rights Act, '68, we passed the fair
housing law, and, in 1972, we had all of that applied to the public sector.
If he had given up at that time he was sitting in the jail, would we have gotten all those things? No. We're not going to give up. We're going to
press forward. And so anybody who thinks that supporting this filibuster is going to discourage me or any other black person, you got another think
AMANPOUR: And on that defiant note, Congressman Jim Clyburn, thank you so much indeed for joining us on Martin Luther King Day.
And we're going to hear from Dr. King himself a little bit more, some of his last speech, at the end of our program. Thanks for being with us.
Now, the White House is also hitting serious obstacles in its foreign policy. After a week of intense diplomacy, Russia still threatens to
ratchet up cyber and military threats against Ukraine.
Today, a bipartisan coalition of American senators is in Kiev to show solidarity with the Zelensky government. But despite strong expressions of
support from the West, Ukraine is unlikely to be formally welcomed by either NATO or the E.U. anytime soon, as long as corruption and political
instability undermine its credibility.
Now, here to assess that and the drumbeats of war are Kurt Volker, who was U.S. ambassador to NATO and a special representative to Ukraine, and
Norbert Rottgen. He is on the German Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and watches all of this very closely indeed.
Gentlemen, welcome to the program.
So, the drumbeats of war, Kurt Volker, first. Actually, I'm going to ask both of you this question, but Kurt first.
Do you actually believe that this is more than posturing, and that Putin may and will decide to launch some kind of military intervention into
OK, I can't hear you, Kurt.
Norbert, can you take that question?
NORBERT ROTTGEN, GERMAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Yes, I can take the question. And I do hear you. Thanks for having me.
Yes, unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that all what we have seen and have been forced to listening to, the massive deployment of troops
and weapons at the border of Ukraine, the war rhetoric applied by Putin and his foreign minister, the cyberattacks on Ukraine, the rhetoric of Lavrov,
the foreign -- Russian foreign minister, who spoke about Poland, the Baltic countries as orphaned countries following the collapse of Warsaw Pact and
the Soviet Union.
I think, unfortunately, that Vladimir Putin has come to the conclusion that he is determined to revise, to renew the political order of Europe. He
considers the current state of Europe as unfavorable for his regime and his stay in power.
And I think he considers the time,the clock ticking against him, against him, and not in favor of him. So I think he seems to be determined to
fundamentally try to change the political order of self-determination, as it has been established after the Cold War. He wants to revise this order.
AMANPOUR: OK. Well, that's pretty gloomy and dark.
Ambassador, Kurt Volker, you heard what Norbert Rottgen just said. Do you also -- have you concluded that you would bet on Putin actually invading
KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE: Unfortunately, yes, I agree with Norbert.
I think he's put in place such substantial military forces and talked himself into a corner. He's made demands of NATO, demands of the United
States, just as Norbert said, that are aimed at rewriting the security order in Europe, and threatened that, if he doesn't get that conceded to
him, he's going to rewrite the facts on the ground.
So, yes, I think that is quite likely.
AMANPOUR: And just to reaffirm what you said, you tweeted, actually, after the talks: "Russia knew that NATO could not give into Russian demands. The
worry is now Russia will use as a pretext for further invasion of Ukraine."
So I wonder, both of you, I mean, you sort of laid it out a little bit, but, in the last few days, as you say, we have seen the cyberattack right
after those talks stopped on Ukrainian government infrastructure. Russia denies it, says it's just a coincidence, they had nothing to do with it.
That's from Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman.
They have hinted that they might move even nuclear missiles closer to the United States. Can we just take that one first?
And, Norbert, for the United States, where is the red line on that?
ROTTGEN: I think the red line is applying violence to a sovereign country like Ukraine. And, of course, imposing a substantial threat close to the
United States, of course, would also be considered to be crossing a red line.
Russia knows that very well. I do not expect -- I think this is posturing. This is threatening the United States, rising the threshold and remembering
them, you also having a big risk if you really counter our attacks and activities and aggression against Ukraine.
I think it will play out -- it will play out in Europe that we will perhaps not see a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine from the first start, but it
will start with cyberattacks, it will start with provocations, with soldiers without military uniforms.
So I think we will see a quite smart escalation of aggression and provocation by Russia.
AMANPOUR: Those soldiers, you remember the last time around, they were called little green men. I mean, they had no insignia or anything.
ROTTGEN: Yes. Yes.
AMANPOUR: But they were clearly aligned with Russia. And there was lots of evidence to prove that.
AMANPOUR: But, Kurt Volker, what would the U.S. be forced to do? What's the diplomacy if Russia moves nuclear weapons on submarines or whatever to
either Cuba or close to Cuba or Venezuela? They haven't ruled it out. They have been asked. They haven't ruled it out.
VOLKER: Well, first off, I think that this is not a serious threat by Putin. It is just meant to draw a parallel between the Cuban Missile Crisis
and Russian military presence in Cuba or Venezuela, and what Putin claims is a threatening enlargement of NATO towards Ukraine.
But there's no parallel there at all. Ukraine is a sovereign country that is seeking to defend itself. It's already being attacked by Russia. And
defending itself is not a threat to Russia and no provocation. But Putin is trying to draw that parallel.
If there were greater Russian nuclear threats to the United States, they would be handled bilaterally by an effort to both make sure that our
nuclear deterrence is clear and sound, and by an effort to then negotiate reductions in nuclear forces, as the administration has already indicated
it's willing to do yes.
In fact, indeed, NATO and the West offered to actually discuss some of Russia's concerns, missile deployment and military exercises, and things
like that. But it didn't seem to be enough for President Putin.
So, can I ask you, Kurt Volker, again, since you were a NATO ambassador? Putin's narrative is that the United States and the West, countries like
Germany as well, have insisted on expanding NATO right to its very border, threatening Russia's security, threatening its position in that region.
And many people believe it. Many believe that narrative, because they see NATO expanding. What is the reality?
VOLKER: Yes, thank you for that question, Christiane, because it is so important to get this right.
The Soviet Union took over the Baltic states. It occupied Ukraine. Ukraine had been independent in the '20s. It took Ukraine, took other countries as
well. It imposed communist governments in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and so forth.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and two years prior the Berlin Wall came down, these countries were independent again for the first time in
generations, and they wanted to make sure that they can be democratic, that they can be prosperous with a market economy, and that they can be secure.
And so they, as sovereign countries, wanted to join other sovereign countries in banding together to make a collective defense pact, an attack
on one would be an attack on all, to prevent exactly what we are seeing in Ukraine today, to prevent the idea that Russia would again attack their
territories and try to assert dominion over them.
So NATO is a defensive organization, and it is the sovereign right and the sovereign desire of these countries to be part of NATO. That's what's
happened. It's not NATO out trying to threaten the Soviet Union or Soviet - - threaten Russia in any way.
AMANPOUR: Right. I know.
But I guess my point was, and maybe, Norbert, part of my point was also that Putin, the Kremlin behaves as this was all done secretly, and by
influence to try to grab these countries into their own influence. From what I understood, each step was discussed with Moscow at the time.
Tell me, Norbert Rottgen, how that process went.
ROTTGEN: Yes, absolutely, you're right, of course.
It -- Russia signed, for example, the Paris accord in 1990, where is enshrined or the right of self-determination, of territorial integrity. We
have constituted and founded the NATO-Russia Council. We had expanded G7 to G8, including Russia. We wanted to strike an accord of modernization with
I think, really, Putin has turned away from that. It is about his power position in his own country. So he thinks, and perhaps rightly so, that he
can't afford to see Ukraine and other countries, countries flourish, designed for democratic and market economy structures, because then these
countries would thrive.
And then Russians would immediately ask, why the hell is any country on this continent thriving and flourishing, but only we in Russia are sticking
to a corrupt, inefficient dictatorship?
And so he does not -- and he wants to expand or to reestablish the imperial dominance of Russia. Putin has described the collapse of the Soviet Union
as the major and most important geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. He wants to rewrite history. And he wants to make sure he stays in
This is what it's all about. The rest of it is a narrative, is propaganda.
AMANPOUR: And let's not forget Russia, the Russian president, in 1994, which was Boris Yeltsin...
AMANPOUR: ... signed with United States, Britain and France the Budapest Memorandum, 1994, guaranteeing...
AMANPOUR: ... Ukraine's territorial integrity, in return for Ukraine voluntarily giving up its stockpile of nuclear weapons.
ROTTGEN: Yes. Yes.
AMANPOUR: But -- yes, so that's a question that Putin never seems to get answered.
But, OK, here he is obviously the real question now. What does the West do, what can the West do to deter an invasion or an incursion? And if one
happens, how does one respond, Kurt Volker, from the U.S. perspective?
VOLKER: Well, the first thing is, as you said, it is to prevent and deter. Responding is already too late. So we should be putting in place sanctions
against Russia now, based on this extortionist behavior.
We should be reinforcing our allies in Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and Poland already, to show resolve. And we should be increasing our
training and equipping of the Ukrainians as rapidly as we possibly can, so that they are best placed to be able to defend themselves.
And if indeed Russia sees all of these steps, and that the Ukrainians can defend themselves, that is the best chance of deterring an invasion that
seems increasingly likely.
AMANPOUR: So you disagree then with what Wendy Sherman and others -- and she's obviously the chief U.S. negotiator on this issue -- they have
essentially implied or said that they will do none of what you suggest unless Russia invades.
VOLKER: Yes, that's exactly right. That's exactly right.
They have positioned us in the United States, they positioned NATO as saying that, if Russia invades further, then we will respond. And I don't
think Putin is terribly convinced by that. I would add also...
AMANPOUR: So you're saying that that would be too late, it needs to happen now?
VOLKER: Well, it should happen now...
VOLKER: ... to prevent an invasion, not respond to an invasion.
If I could there, today, out of Berlin that the E.U. is signaling that sanctions against Russia on the swift financial transfer system are off the
table. That's, again, bad signaling from us about --
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask Norbert about that, because I'm sure he -- well, what's your view on that, if those kinds of sanctions are off the table?
And now, we're also hearing that there's a split in the German government - - governing structure between the chancellor and foreign minister on whether there should be sanctions against that infamous Nord Stream 2
natural gas pipeline?
ROTTGEN: So, I concede. There is a big if, can we still prevent Putin from aggression. But if we now started with the escalation and impose further
sanctions on Russia, I think certainly, we would take the international blame for starting the escalation. So, I think it would not be wise now, on
our side, at this moment exactly, to start with -- to impose sanctions.
What we should do instead is that we make -- that we contribute to our strength, to unity and nothing must be taken off the table, not the Swift
Agreement or Nord Stream 2 or anything. We must achieve that Putin is not able to predict what the sanctions short of military counter violence. So,
will not go to war, we will fight military short of military tools, we will apply, we'll be ready to apply tool we are able to have control about,
economic and whatever sanctions. It must be unpredictable for him, the size and scope of sanctions. This is our last chance to prevent him going from
war and from further escalation and --
AMANPOUR: Golly, golly. Your last chance, that sounds a little chilling, actually. I don't know what you think, Kurt Volker, of an article I read
today, saying that the United States -- from the Pentagon side, it was written by the New York Times Pentagon correspondent, is potentially even
suggesting that it might provide help to a so-called Ukrainian insurgency if Russia invades. In other words, fighting with -- well, providing help to
a Ukrainian insurgency rather than, as you know, the U.S. has been fighting insurgencies from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. Does that sound like it
VOLKER: I think that if Russia does invade Ukraine again and takes a substantial portion of territory, depends how far they go. But if they take
a substantial portion of Ukrainian territory, I have no doubt there would be an internal resistance to that. I think the Ukrainians are determined to
fight this time unlike seven years ago in Crimea where everyone was so shocked that there was no internal resistance. Here, I think, if Putin goes
closer to Kiev or into Central Ukraine, there would be resistance.
As for what the U.S. policy on that would be, I can't really comment on those reports. I saw them as well. It would be a bold step, but we have to
go back to the very beginning of what we're talking about here. It's an international order where states are not permitted to invade other
countries and take care of territory and claim that they have a right to control them. And so, preventing that in the first instance and reversing
that if necessary, I think, very much be -- must be the western agenda.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, now, if I was Putin and I was trying to read President Biden, I would see President Biden, you know, took a calamitous decision
and pulled the United States out of Afghanistan, I would see a maybe somewhat distracted by that. Then, I would go back to 2014 and I would read
what he said to the Ukrainians in their own parliament in 2014. This is what he said, we no longer think in Cold War terms. There's nothing Putin
can do militarily to fundamentally alter American interests.
Now, this is after the invasion and the annexation of Crimea. He then said the following to parliament, to the Ukrainian parliament. We're going to
play this soundbite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, THEN-U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: And this is a delicate thing to say to a group of leaders in their house of parliament, but you have to fight
the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Norbert Rottgen, two slightly different issues. But the first one is, we don't have a military dog in this fight no matter what
Russia does. So, let me ask you about that. Do you think that still holds? Do you think Putin sitting in the Kremlin say, oh, I see what Biden does
and what he says and he's not into having any more foreign wars?
ROTTGEN: Yes, I think he's calculating that he's not facing war with NATO if he goes for Ukraine. And I think we should be clear about that. Yes, we
are not in a position, neither politically nor psychologically to go to war. But he should -- and we should be honest about that, but we should
also be clear that until the limit of not going for war, we would apply all the measures and there will -- it dramatically and there will be
devastating. This is important for Putin because it could endanger his power within Russia if and when his citizens would have to pay the bill for
his adventurous conquer of Ukraine.
AMANPOUR: And there seems to be very little traction amongst the Russian people for any big war on the horizon.
So, quickly, Kurt, we've got about 45 seconds. Would he put Ukraine on notice about corruption and other issues that would pave their way into
NATO? It doesn't look like Ukraine is anywhere close to being accepted by NATO anyway.
VOLKER: That's right. And he's right that corruption is an endemic problem in Ukraine, but that is off the topic from what we're talking about now,
which is Russia attacking a sovereign country and taking their territory. We've got to be willing to keep all options on the table, as Norbert says,
and I would not rule out further military support to Ukraine as well. All options on the table.
AMANPOUR: Slightly off topic expect this is what has got the wind-up Putin's sails, the whole idea of NATO and Ukraine.
Kurt Volker, Norbert Rottgen, thank you both very much for your expert analysis. Really interesting.
ROTTGEN: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: Now, America's air wars in the Middle East, they were advertised as the most precised campaigns in history. But new investigative reporting
is revealing a cacophony with terrible errors, flawed intelligence and imprecise targeting caused deaths of thousands of civilians, a number that
is severely underreported by the Pentagon.
Azmat Khan exposes the true human toll of U.S. air strikes for the "New York Times" magazine. And she joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the impact
of this warfare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Asmack Kahn, thanks so much for joining us.
Now, there have been several different investigations looking at the collateral damage of air strikes from the U.S. What was different about
yours? What were you able to do that had not been done?
AZMAT KHAN, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: So, in the past, when I've done reporting on the ground into air strikes and I'd taken
my findings to the U.S. military, they would often respond with the fact that they have classified intelligence that showed there was a threat. And
once you meet that response, you're generally at a standstill, right? There is evidence you can't refute because you can't see it.
So, several years ago, I started filing requests under the freedom of information act for the documents that actually detail the intelligence
behind these air strikes that either resulted in civilian casualties or the military rejected them as claims of civilian casualties. And it took
several years. But after filing a lawsuit against the Pentagon, I obtained more than 1,300 of these kinds of records. Records that tell you what they
believed the threat was, what they were targeting, the process that they went through before conducting that air strike and then, their own
evaluation of whether or not that civilian casualty claim was credible.
And I now have the means to compare what the military truly believed and whether or not that was actually the case on the ground.
SREENIVASAN: Now, the on the ground part, you were able to get on the ground with your reporting team and talk to survivors, witnesses of these
KHAN: I went to every single strike in this sample myself. And what I did was I would take the coordinate military claimed was associated with that
particular credible civilian casualty incident. So, of the 340 credible incidents, the coalition has acknowledged. I went to the sites of 60 of
those in Iraq and Syria. Most of them were in Mosul, some were in other cities.
And what I would do is I would take the coordinate, the alleged coordinate and verify that the air strike in that document took place there. Often,
this was done through associating it with the alleged target or figuring out details where the video that was described in the document of what they
had witnessed, you know, whether that matched with what people were telling me on the ground.
And then, once I identified people who certainly were survivors of these incidents or had lost loved ones in these incidents or had been
eyewitnesses, I would do in-depth interviews with them to try to reconstruct not just what was happening around that time of the strike and
what things may have been misinterpreted, but to understand what the true toll of civilian loss was. I would document death certificates, hospital
records, videos or photos of any injuries, the kinds of experiences that people have had as a result of these air strikes that I don't think we have
a true picture of yet.
SREENIVASAN: What's also powerful about this reporting is how you personalize it, how you go and speak to families and you share that with
your readers. I want you to tell us a little bit about the family that you met in East Mosul, the story of Kusai Saad (ph).
KHAN: So, Kusai Saad (ph) was -- you know, he had been forced to move from his home as the battle for liberation began in East Mosul. And he and his
family moved into a home and neighborhood called Facilia. And, you know, as the battle intensified, you know, they could hear bombings all around the
gate, was ripped off the house they were staying in. They -- he and his wife huddled together with their children. And ISIS came to the house they
were in and forced them to move into a house next door where other families were staying, and they basically were in different rooms and spent the
night there as this battle intensified, hoping to just wait out until liberation occurred and their neighborhood was freed and they could leave.
Unfortunately, that morning, you know, Kusai Saad (ph), as they were sitting down to breakfast, he, his wife and their children essentially were
met with an air strike on their home. And as he tried to free his child and his son and his daughter and hand one of his children to his wife, the
second strike occurred, leveling the entire building.
Kusai (ph) managed to get out with one of his sons, but he was unable to recover the bodies of his wife or other children for two months. In fact,
when they found them, you know, they are in really grizzly state, that's, I think, hard to still talk about. But this is a man who now -- his -- you
know, his family says he spends entire nights at the graveyard where his wife and children are buried, whose left his home, you know, before he was
forced to move out of it or fled it, you know, as it was before everything happened.
And he lost his family members. And he's the person who told me, you know, what happened was not the liberation of Mosul, it was the destruction of
humanity and told me he wanted to see the video, the video that said that they saw, you know, ISIS fighters firing from that building or within that
building. And he said, they should show me the video and I'll show them Mosul. They need to see it with their own eyes.
SREENIVASAN: What does the military say were civilian casualties and what did you find on the ground?
KHAN: So, in case after case, if the casualty was not reported via a journalist on the ground or via an NGO that went on the ground, the
military tended to underestimate the casualties. They tended to count only what they saw in footage, and footage was often lacking. So, sometimes it
would be a minute and 22 seconds long. And based on a review of that footage, because they saw no one being taken out of the rubble or because
they saw -- they didn't see, you know, dead bodies in that footage that was sometimes just seconds long, they would sometimes reject these casualty
I went to dozens of non-credible sites in addition to those 60 credible sites, and what I found even in instances where the military acknowledged
casualties, where they said, OK, we saw one child injured. You know, in that home, I might document the total of 12 people killed and multiple
other injuries. And this happened again and again. So, the system they're using, not just to acknowledge whether or not civilian loss happened but
the true toll was severely underestimated.
I also found that there were different categories for why these strikes were occurring and that several of them were ones that the military seemed
to not really know the full extent of. And I think the most important one they were unaware of was what's known as misidentification. So, when
they've concluded that somebody is a combatant, but in reality, that was a civilian, and why those kinds of mistakes or misinterpretations happened.
And from that, as I dug deeper, I would find instances when they, for example, identified something as a weapons making factory that was, in
fact, a cotton gin, where they associated what were white bags of what they saw as ammonium nitrate were probably just bags of cotton. Where they
looked at five men on motorcycles driving in the "signature" of a threat from ISIS were in fact just men on motorbikes. Things like this happened
again and again where something as simple as a civilian home was assessed to be an ISIS headquarters, and almost everything people did was seen with
an incriminating lens, something that we often refer to as confirmation bias.
SREENIVASAN: So, they were assuming that places were ISIS bases or safe houses when perhaps they were just normal residences?
SREENIVASAN: One of the phrases that we hear in this is collateral damage or proportionality, that there are likely to be civilian casualties but
that the U.S. military is trying to balance the greater good that if they see a bomb making facility by ISIS and unfortunately, there's a child
involved in the air strike, this is a cost of war.
But in your reporting, you say that documents that the government has identified children killed or injured in 27 percent of cases in the times
since ground reporting, it was 62 percent. What accounted for such an enormous disparity?
KHAN: Yes. So, part of it is that they don't see children, right, in some of these bombings. It takes a while to pull bodies. Children can be very
small and the video footage isn't always very clear, depending on different factors. But more than that, what I've often found is that their
assessments of proportionality, even in cases where they acknowledge that they saw children before a strike, sometimes, rather than using that
information to reassess whether or not they have the right target, they proceeded with a strike anyway, saying that because they believed they were
attacking a weapons factory that the deaths of three children they spotted on the roof would be worth taking out that weapons factory.
And yet, when I went to that site and I talked to everyone I could in that neighborhood, what I found is that that was just an ordinary civilian home.
A home where 12 members of a family lived and 11 of them were killed, only one little girl survived. And when I talked to that little girl's
grandmother who was not at the house that night of the strike and I laid out, you know, what I'd seen in the document and she told me that children
would go on the roof of the house to warm up, that no one was ever making weapons at this facility.
In fact, there was a bread oven on the roof and it's possible that that bread over was what they misinterpreted, maybe lots of smoke or high heat
signature from it was what made them determine this was a weapons factory. But when I told her that they assessed this to be proportional for this
reason, her response to me was, but they didn't gain any military advantage. The only thing they did is that they killed the children.
And so, these assessments of proportionality, you know, what gives us faith, what gives the American people faith in our wars is this idea that
we conduct these air strikes, not just with a coherent process but that our intelligence is really good. And what I found is that it's not just in
quick instances of the fog of war or where things are very quickly executed, even in cases where there are -- there's a deliberate long-term
pre-planned process, the intelligence was wrong over and over. And so, it really calls into question what we've been told about how our wars are
SREENIVASAN: You know, I know that there are cases where the Pentagon compensates families, how rare is that?
KHAN: It's extremely rare. Within Iraq and Syria, there have probably been fewer than a dozen payments. You know, when they're not on the ground to
investigate these or to meet survivors themselves or to assess these kinds of claims themselves, they're also less likely to make those kinds of
payments. You know, this is something that in the past, they saw as a strategic imperative. But it's also important to keep in mind that these
payments are capped at very low amounts, usually around $2,500 for a death.
So, for some people, it's not nearly enough for losing a loved one. And for those who have lifelong injuries, it's not nearly enough to have the kind
of medical care they're going to need for the rest of their lives.
SREENIVASAN: When you were speaking to some of the people on the ground in these different communities, what does it do to your world view, I guess,
if you know that a missile can just literally just come out of nowhere and you or your loved ones could be killed?
KHAN: So, I think it's caused a lot with the people I've spoken to lose faith in their government or in some of the systems that were responsible
for the kinds of violence they faced, and it really depends on which war zone you're in.
In Afghanistan, you know, I've met the survivors who told me that, you know, this was a large reason that many of these districts and areas fell
to the Taliban or became Taliban strongholds in recent years. It's certainly the case that their perspectives on the Afghan government were
radically shaped by the large number of civilian casualties that resulted, not just from air strikes but different kinds of missions by Afghan forces,
Afghan security forces.
But also, in Iraq and Syria, I've spoken to people who basically said that, we don't call it liberation, we call it the destruction of humanity or the
eradication of ISIS was paid for with our bodies. And they have a great deal of resentment toward their government for having left them with ISIS
and cutting off all of the different exit quarters in Mosul that would have prevented them from having a lower rate of civilian loss.
SREENIVASAN: So, has the Pentagon responded to your work or most recent reporting?
KHAN: So, when I went to the Pentagon to tell them about my findings, you know, they were adamant that they take great care to prevent civilian harm,
that they regret each loss of civilian life. And that in instances where they've determined it's incredible, that they investigate each claim. I
haven't found that to be the case that they investigate each claim. Investigation would require a full investigation, something they rarely
conducted. And I think it would also require them going on the ground, something that they don't do.
In terms of, you know, when I asked them, you know, would you or what has prevented you from going on the ground? They have talked about this
environmental situation that is quite difficult and hard for them to operate within. But me as a lowly reporter with a fraction of the resources
or capabilities that they have, you know, was able to do this, then there's really no excuse for why they're not.
SREENIVASAN: I can hear members of the U.S. military saying, listen, this rebel war has cost us more than 6,000 service members. And if we did not
have the capacity to take air strikes remotely, that number would be much higher. What do you say to that after looking through all these documents?
KHAN: That's fair and it's something I've written myself, right, that these -- it's a choice that was made, you know, to reduce the number of
American lives lost. I think the problem is that to truly measure whether the wars that are continuing should continue, you need an informed public
that understands where the costs really lie, and even if they're not happening in as high numbers to the American people, you do need to also
consider these foreign lives that we don't fully know the true toll of or the impact they're having on the ground.
You know, for example these parts of Afghanistan that became Taliban strongholds, right, things that the members of the public should know. It
was really startling to me to see how many people were so surprised by the fall of Afghanistan. But to those who have been watching, not just civilian
casualties but the outcomes of these wars from reporters who had told it on the ground from these people who have experienced it there, it wouldn't be
And so, what I would say is that I would not let the fact that there are reduced casualties for American service personnel to distract from the fact
that there are still casualties happening and they're having significant impacts on the ground, and we need that information to truly understand,
not just whether the costs and means of war are worth it, but to have that in mind the next time the American public is set to debate another war.
SREENIVASAN: Investigative reporter of the "New York Times" magazine Azmat Khan. Thanks so much for joining us.
KHAN: Thank you for having me, Hari.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And, of course, and all those civilian casualties, not just a crisis for humanity, but also a crisis for the Americans who may want to
enter another war like that in the future because that is what turns off hearts and minds, that is what loses them their military campaign.
And finally, tonight, to end our Martin Luther King Day program, we give the great civil rights leader the last word. And we're choosing part of the
very last speech he ever made on April 3, 1968, one day before he was assassinated. He was speaking to striking sanitation workers who were
blocked from their peaceful march by the City of Memphis. Here's what he said to them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: If I lived in China or even Russia or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these
illegal injunctions, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges because they have committed themselves for that
over that. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly, somewhere I read of the freedom of speech, somewhere I read, of the freedom of press,
somewhere I read, that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: All these years later, Dr. King's words resonate loud and clear on issues that should have been long resolved in the self-declared greatest
democracy on earth from the freedom of protest for free and true speech, all the way to voting rights the very heart of any democracy.
That is it for now. And if you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. You can find it at
cnn.com/podcast and all major podcast platforms. Search for "Amanpour" or scan the QR code on your screens that you see right now. Remember, that you
can always catch us online. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.