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Interview With Pakistani Minister Of State For Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar; Interview With "The Edge Of The Plain" Author James Crawford; Interview With "Free Chol Soo Lee" Co-Director Eugene Yi; Interview With "Free Chol Soo Lee" Co-Director Julie Ha. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired August 29, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
Unrelenting rains pound Pakistan taking more than 1,000 lives and destroying homes and livelihoods. The climate minister says one-third of
Pakistan is underwater. We look at the apocalyptic flooding there.
And, to the moon. We take a look at NASA's Artemis Program setting the stage for humans to make a triumphant return. Then --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CRAWFORD, AUTHOR, "THE EDGE OF THE PLAIN": There is no one-definition border. They're entirely contingent. And every border, in a sense, is a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Writer, James Crawford, breaks down borders and looks to the future in his new book, "The Edge Of The Plain".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard for me comprehend that I am on death row for crimes I did not commit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: "Free Chol Soo Lee". Documentary directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi talk to Hari Sreenivasan about the wrongful conviction of a Korean
immigrant and the 1970s and the movement that led to his release.
Welcome to the program. I'm Sara Sidner in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
I have not seen destruction on this scale. It's overwhelming. The words of Pakistan's foreign minister after seeing the utter devastation in his
country right now as monsoon rain and floods have killed a staggering 1,100 people in the last two months. Terrible videos shows towns completely
inundated. People desperately searching for shelter and for food. Our Anna Coren has the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): A young life hanging in the balance. Winched across rushing water in Pakistan's flood-
soaked Sindh Province. Safely off the bedframe, it's an older man's turn. Lucky for some, but these floods have killed over 1,000 people since mid-
June, including over 350 children, according to UNICEF.
ABDULLAH FADIL, UNICEF REPRESENTATIVE IN PAKISTAN: This is a calamity of proportions, I think, Pakistan has not seen. Some of the areas hit are also
some of the most vulnerable areas of the country.
COREN (voiceover): Pakistan normally goes through three to four monsoon rain cycles each year, it had eight in that time, and the wet season will
drag on through September. Extreme heat has become the Earth. The rain cannot soak in, flash flooding comes next.
These satellite images show the Indus River swelling. Nowhere for the water to go and few routes to escape it. Highways through central Pakistan have
been cut off. Bridges broken as villages wash away. In the northwest of the country, army choppers rescue desperate people. Another person saved.
Others scramble for the next helicopter.
FADIL: This is the climate crisis. A climate that has been mostly done by richer countries Contributing to the crisis. And I think it's time that the
world responded to support Pakistan in this time of need.
COREN (voiceover): As Pakistan and NGOs appeal for international aid, the weather forecast is finally brightening. All are hopeful for a break in the
rain. A chance to further assess the damage. What is immediately obvious, the toll that climate change is taking. Pakistan's relatively low carbon
footprint, not enough to save it from the dangers of our warming world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Our Anna Coren there with that devastating report. Pakistan's government is pleading help -- for help. Hina Rabbani Khar is the country's
minister of state for foreign affairs. I spoke to her just a moments ago from Islamabad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Minister of State for Foreign affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, thank you so much for joining us.
HINA RABBANI KHAR, PAKISTANI MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Pleasure to be here.
SIDNER: We are seeing devastating pictures from the ground there in Pakistan. You are there. Can you describe the situation for us?
KHAR: Actually, the way to describe that it is very difficult to describe. It is indescribable. It's so apocalyptic proportions. You know, it's
difficult to put it in perspective. So, if I'm to tell you that all of the population living in all of Australia was under floods, that's the number
of people and more. That's about 10 million more than all of the population of Australia. About 33 million people have been affected.
6.4 million in dire need of immediate assistance. Two million acres of crops for our nation, for our country, which is all of the food insecure as
the rest of the world has been rendered food insecure because of the multi- crisis that the world has been facing. Two million acres worth of crop, gone. People's existence (ph), gone. Livestock, up to 700,000 in numbers,
So, we are still grappling with the numbers. And we also know that it is still an evolving situation. Which means that the numbers from Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa, the province which has only been ravaged in the past four years in a really big way have not even started trickling in.
So, to be honest, it feels like the people who least deserve to pay the cost for the climate crisis that has been propelled by many other -- many,
many, many actions are the ones who are paying the price for it.
SIDNER: Minister, I have to ask you, you know, we're seeing that -- forecasters are saying there's more rain to come. We know that it's not
just people have lost their lives and families have lost family members. But their livelihoods as well. As well as their homes. With more rain,
potentially on the way, I mean, what is the government doing to try to deal with this disaster?
KHAR: You know, Sara, to me, this is not a Pakistan crisis, this is an international crisis. This is an international crisis because this has been
triggered by the climate crisis which is an international responsibility.
And the more I look at the world, the more I see a lack of attention going on what is a living threat to humanity and to planet Earth. And therefore,
our government is, obviously. right now, doing whatever it can, which means getting immediate relief resistance. But where do you get the number of
tents that are required which run into millions? There is no stable country which has the product to think about (ph) to deal with those numbers.
We know that friendly -- friends are, you know, sending in tents, relief goods. We, ourselves, are arranging for whatever is possible. We have also
decided, this time, to give cash transactions. But in times when people are inundated -- when their homes are inundated, when shops and any possible
avenues of transaction of any banking transaction is inundated. It's very, very difficult.
So, currently, we are going to what is called the relief stage which means that you deal with the livelihoods, as best later right now, you get them
water. You get them shelter. You get -- you make sure that there's no health event to exacerbate an already bad situation. And really to rescue
people because that there have been at least 1,033 reported deaths. And we know the number could be much more.
So, right now, we are and what you call the risk and relief stage. And it is hitting the different parts of the country. Different physical locations
of the country at different times. So, in some spaces such as Balochistan, and perhaps a little bit Sindh, a little bit of Southern Punjab is hit
before. But in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa we are still being hit. And in all of Pakistan, almost, the rain is starting in.
So, yes, it's an evolving situation and it's a disaster proportion that typically, I mean, even the first world countries would not have -- to be
able to deal with.
SIDNER: Last week, I think, the United Nations said that it was going to be able to allocate $3 million to help in an emergency fund. They're also
asking for $160 million in a flash appeal. What will be enough? And in the end, you know, what do you need from the International Community as you
talked about this as an international crisis, not just a crisis in Pakistan?
KHAR: OK. So, when it comes to what do we need from the International Community, I think, it will only be a fool who will try to make a guess on
what the numbers are going to look like. Because from what we're seeing right now, we've only talking lives, livelihoods, tents, shelter, water.
We're not talking roads damaged, tens of thousands of kilometers, perhaps, of serious infrastructure has been inundated. Has been, not only
underwater, but destroyed. Because the force of these floods in many areas was so fast and so destructive that it literally took whatever came in its
way, including road infrastructure.
So, we are -- all in all, once the analysis is done, because right now, as I said, the administration over there is involved in rescue and relief. And
we'll be looking at numbers will start coming in, perhaps, in this -- on rehabilitation requirement and reconstruction requirement. We're looking at
hundreds of thousands of houses lost. As I said, infrastructure, both in terms of roads and other basic large-scale infrastructure having been
ground, you know, put to ground.
So, the number is going to go into tens of millions of dollars. And as I said, Pakistan is a country which is already facing a difficult economic
situation. As you know, we are currently under an IMF program. And tend to, sometimes, look at, you know, sources for funding our infrastructure.
So, if I were to look at it, it almost seems like the tens of millions of dollars that we have taken from the World Bank, from the Asian Development
Bank to build a lot of the infrastructure, lies now, not only eroded but completely destroyed.
SIDNER: I want to give a comparison from you. I happen to be in Pakistan in 2010 during the terrible flooding at that time. It displaced about 20
million people, that was of about $10 billion in damages to homes and farms, and livelihoods. How do these floods compare in 2022 to the floods
that happened there in 2010?
KHAR: So, I'm told that an area which has been inundated is far larger. The scope, the physical scope of the area is far larger. We just received a
number of 22 million. I shared with you an initial assessment of 33 million people affected, inundated by the torrential rains of that.
So, it seems like, if you look at a satellite map of Pakistan, and look at the area that's affected by rain, torrential rains or floods, it's
literally, like, you only see a small portion towards, you know, upper Punjab and a little bit of both, you know, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area earlier
which was not affected.
Pretty much all of Pakistan has been affected because even the other areas have also been inundated because of the rain. To give you a number to this,
Sindh alone has had 5.7 times more rain than it typically does. Balochistan 5.1 times more rain than it typically does. All of Pakistan about 3.1 or
3.5 times more rain.
This is -- nobody built an infrastructure to deal with a climate crisis of this -- or a weather event, an extreme weather event triggered or induced
by the climate crisis of this proportion. No one ever even built an infrastructure with this much resilience.
SIDNER: Your Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, wrote an opinion piece for the economic -- the economist, excuse me, in August. And he said that the
country has reached out to the IMF several times throughout its history. That this has not how successful nations are built. And that the country
marks 75 years since independence. And he expressed worry this month that it is a moment that merits serious introspection.
You, at this moment in time, are awaiting from -- for the IMF to make a decision about what kind of money it can give to Pakistan. And we're
hearing some reporting that the IMF has indeed made a decision and agreed to a bailout package. Can you confirm that for us?
KHAR: I think we are awaiting decision from an IMF board as we speak. We are expecting that to be a positive decision. So, we hope that will be a
positive decision. But under the current circumstances because flash floods are ravaging through Pakistan and have this -- you know, destroyed as much
as they have. I think we need to -- in the world today, do some out-of-the- box thinking in terms of countries which have been the least contributors to the climate crisis. We have a very low carbon footprint. We have,
perhaps, only one percent contribution.
The people who've been ravaged and affected are perhaps even the lowest of that one percent of Pakistan's carbon footprint in the sense that they,
perhaps, have no footprint at all. And yet, those are the ones who have to face this beast of climate crisis-induced weather extreme, weather events.
So, what does that answer to these people? And how -- so the -- as I said, -- I -- we look at it as an international event which requires an
international response because this is just a -- I think what Pakistan is going through right now is a peep into the future of what the climate
crisis has a potential to look like. And this is not a one-off event also.
In the last two decades, Pakistan has seen extreme weather events. You mentioned 2010, then there is 2011. We've seen heat waves, not only in
Pakistan but in all of Europe. Also, we've seen forest fires, which is unknown to Pakistan before. So, we are living through, what we thought is
going to be the future crisis for our children right now.
SIDNER: You --
KHAR: So, there is (INAUDIBLE) program -- payment support but there is also support for countries which have been most hit by the climate crisis.
According to various index, is Pakistan is one of the ten most hit areas through -- sorry, countries through extreme weather events induced by
SIDNER: You, of course, Minister, have a neighbor, India, that is going through some of the similar problems as Pakistan and some other parts of
You both had to endure a really devastating, deadly heat wave this year, in two months of the year, April and May. And your two countries are still in
conflict over Kashmir as well as a few other things. This conflict in the Kashmir region, it is considered the highest battleground on Earth. There
are armies that are on an actual glacier., the Siachen Glacier. And the armies that are there, there are some people that say, hey, the fact that
they are there is actually eroding the glacier even more.
Would you look at this issue of climate change and say, this is an issue that could bring India and Pakistan together? Not only there in the Kashmir
regions -- region, but in general that this might bring the two countries together to find a solution.
KHAR: Absolutely. I think if there is one thing that does not look at religion, past greed, or the geographical boundaries of a certain country,
and being the other starting it is the climate crisis. However, we have to look at the situation that we're in. And we have to be very clear on how
these two states have to function like states.
So, if one of us becomes a rogue state and goes back on every commitment that it made to no other than the security council of the United Nations
and to bilateral commitments that it had made to Pakistan and to its own, you know, Supreme Court rulings. And to its own people and start
introducing where the need of trying to annul a reality which stands as a conflict which required to resolve through peaceful means, which is
Pakistan's position. Pakistan stands today ready to resolve, not only the Kashmir conflict, but also all other outstanding issues with India through
peaceful means. But we have to respect international law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Our thanks to Pakistan's Minister of State of Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar. We should mention that in just the last hour, we have learned
that Pakistan's finance minister says that the IMF board has approved the bailout for his country, that's over $1.1 billion. They will be getting the
seventh and eighth crunch of that money. That has been approved by the board.
Next, as the climate crisis melts glaciers, it's not just people who are displaced. Even the borders of entire countries are being moved. They have
come to define our planet, our nation, and by extension, our own stance of identity. Borders can be a source of safety or act as a prison.
But why do these lines on a map hold such power over humanity? Will we ever do away with them? These are some of the questions pondered and answered in
James Crawford's new book, "The Edge of the Plain: How Borders Make and Break Our World.: He joined me from Edinburgh, Scotland.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: So, you explored the earliest known borders to the most current ones. When you were writing this book, did the meaning of the word border
and the significance of border change for you as you went in person to visit some of these borders across the world?
JAMES CRAWFORD, AUTHOR, "THE EDGE OF THE PLAIN": Yes, I mean, I absolutely did. The reason for me for writing the book was to really try and
understand what a border is. In particular, where borders came from. Because anyone who is paying attention to the news for the last five, 10,
even 15 years has been conscious how much borders are sources of geopolitical conflict. But that's been increasing.
And we're seeing more and more pressure on these borders. You know, we've had things like the Brexit votes in the U.K. We had our British prime
minister returning from Brussels celebrating the end of Freedom of Movement. You know, a British prime minister celebrating the end of a
freedom. There has been enormous pressure on the U.S./Mexico border.
So, you know, there's been all of these issues around borders. And I wanted to try and understand where they came from, and what they were. And I think
one of the conclusions that I've come to is that there is no one definition of border. They're entirely contingent.
And every border, in a sense, is a story. You know, it's a story that we tell ourselves. This is a national story, sometimes, that we tell people.
And even an individual border can change over time. The line may stay the same. But what the line is can change quite fundamentally. And I think
that's something we really need to be conscious of moving into the future.
SIDNER: You discussed this relationship between borders and inequality in your book. And, you know, we have looked at this as well and I've seen this
in person that it's often the physical borders stings, such as, you know, a fence or high walls that are put between wealthy nations and poor nations.
You've got the U.S./Mexico border, for example, or the Saudi/Yemen border as well.
And I want to quote from your book because I thought this was particularly interesting and poignant. It says, "On one side of the border, maybe the
promise of wealth. On the other, the certainty of poverty. What you read or who you love may be free for you to choose, or maybe punishable by prison,
even death." So, how have the borders become a source of inequality?
CRAWFORD: Ultimately, when you get the creation of the current system of bordering, the modern system of bordering, which is only really 350 years
old, that's what creates nation-states. And within nations-states you have -- I mean, that system of bordering merge out of a religious war that tore
Europe apart. And the concept was a state, a monarch, could choose which religion was practiced within a specific geographical territory. What that
required was the drawing of that geographical territory.
Then over time, there was a kind of race that was on to draw borders at that point. To, you know, to say what land is mine? What actual land is
mine that dovetails with the, sort of, scientific developments and technological developments and the likes of them? So, you can actually
accurately map what a space is. Because really, up to that point, that hadn't been possible. But now you can create maps and territory.
Of course, then nations -- one's nation states merge, they resource this. There's a race on to find and exploit resources. And in that process, we
have generated immense inequality. And effectively, it's a little bit like a game of musical chairs. And the music has stopped. And if you happen to
be in one of those places that experience this quite significant inequality compared to somewhere else, the implication is that you're stuck. And
that's really where we are right now.
SIDNER: Your own family has its own story about borders and about migration. And it was very interesting to read an excerpt about how a toss
of the coin, sort of, changed who you are or who your family is. Can you tell me a bit about the story?
CRAWFORD: Absolutely. That -- the toss of that coin, if it landed the other way up, I would not have existed. So, both -- the great-grandparents on
both sides of my family were economic migrants. They left Scotland. They left Scotland at the start of the 20th century and they traveled to
America, so, many other States. You know, my great-grandparents on my mother's side passed through Ellis Island in 1908.
At that time, there's about a million people a year being processed through there. And they went to work on a cattle ranch on the far side -- the
western side of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. In land, which actually 60 years beforehand, would have been Mexico because that used to be the
dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico. And they stuck it out for two winters. And ultimately, my great-grandmother couldn't cope with the
isolation. You know, it was just -- it was hard. And my great-grandfather and a group of cowboys looking after Texas longhorn cattle. And they
returned to Scotland.
Then on my father's side, my great-grandfather traveled at 17 to Detroit. And he found work as a mechanic in the Highland Park Plant, which is the
Henry Ford Motor Company, the first assembly line. And my grandfather was born there, and my granddad was born in Detroit. And they stayed until the
great depression hit. And he actually kept his job. But by that point in Detroit, unemployment reached about a third of the population.
And they tossed a coin to decide whether to stay in this country. This -- you know, the country -- it had been a decade. They -- you know, the
children had been born there. It was their new home, or to return to Scotland. And, you know, it was heads or tails. And it was Liberty's head
that came up on the silver dime, and they came back to Scotland.
SIDNER: It is fascinating. You talk about globalization versus nationalism as well. And you say that today there are more borders in the world than
ever before in human history. So, do you think that this idea of nationalism and ultranationalism that is spreading across much of the west
for certain and some of the east, do you think that is one of the reasons why we're seeing these borders go up and such a significant way?
CRAWFORD: It absolutely is. I mean, and you can see that everywhere. You know, you can see it very prominently in the United States, you know, with
Mr. Trump administration. If you pour national identity into a line, which is what we have done, you know, as I said, that creation of this modern
system of bordering led to the creation of nation-states, so, effectively led to nationalism. And there are so many instances where nationalism,
identity is exerted by the drawing of these lines and the establishment of these lines.
And there's also so much nostalgia now, you know, so much looking backwards. Particularly for western countries who feel that their grasp on
power may be slipping. Who feel like their incursion coming from migrants.
You know, Trump described the walking caravan that approached the U.S./Mexico border in 2018 as an invasion of migrants. So, there's this
sense of pulling up the drawbridge and saying, you know, we're done now. This is what our nation. This is what the space we occupy is. And the rise
of nationalism or the new rise of nationalism, if you like, and to some extent, that veering towards fascism is often connected to these lines
because they become the spaces where you exert who you are. And that's what we are seeing increasingly across Europe and across America.
SIDNER: You talked about the flipping of the coin and your great- grandparent being able to choose. And a lot of people can't choose, or their choices are so very limited. I do want to talk about that in the
context of climate change. How do you think climate change is going to change the ideas of borders and even redrawing the map for borders?
CRAWFORD: Yes, I mean, think there's two key issues here. I mean, one is a lot of the projections, a lot of the research into climate change suggest
that there are going to be large parts of the world which have large numbers of people in them that are going to be heading towards being
uninhabitable. Now, there's something in the region about five percent of the world, at the moment, where humans are living in temperatures that are
outside of what some research described as a human climate, an ideal temperature where the vast majority of people actually live.
If you look at the IPCC projections going forward for the next 50 years, that's going to rise to about 25 percent. If there is no change, if there's
no real mitigation to emissions. And potentially, you're talking about 3.5 billion people who live in spaces where humans tend to never lived before.
Now, that doesn't mean that they're going to move. But it does mean that living where they currently live is going to be very difficult for them.
On top of that, if sea levels continue to rise at the rates that they're rising, you will find some countries potentially disappearing entirely.
And, you know, one example is Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean. That, within the next hundred years, could be swamped by that ocean. And then what do you do
when you have a people and you have a government, but you don't have lines around a space because they're underwater? Do they then lose their
nationality, do they lose their identity, or they're arguing for something they call climate mobility? Which is the ability to move.
And if you looked at the universal declaration on human rights, conspicuous by its absence is a universal right to move. There's a right to move within
your state, within your country. And there's a right to leave your state and come back. But not to go anywhere. And I think climate change will put
a spotlight on that because there'll be certain places that it would seem impossible for people to live.
SIDNER: James, I want to play some sound from the Tuvalu foreign minister who talked about that very thing. Let's listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMON KOFE, TUVALUAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Tuvalu, we are living the realities of climate change in sea level rise. As you stand watching me today at
COP26. We cannot wait for speeches when the sea is rising around us all the time. Climate mobility must come to the forefront. We must take bold
alternative action today to secure tomorrow. (Speaking in foreign language).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: It's an incredible picture on its own and it does speak 1,000 words just the picture alone. So, ultimately, as governments are going into this
idea of nationalism and, you know, securing their borders, should the governments be thinking about what is going to happen when this migration,
which seems inevitable, begins to happen and rethinking whether or not we should be doing this along many borders?
CRAWFORD: Absolutely. I mean, I think there's no question -- I mean, it doesn't really matter where you stand politically. We're seeing the
evidence of it all the time. You know, there's record numbers of migrants crossing the channel. There appear to be a record number of migrants at the
U.S./Mexico border right now, you know, beating everything there's been before. You have the instance of the governor of Texas bussing the migrants
up to Washington and to New York.
Now, that's, obviously, a political act. And to some extent, it's weaponizing those individuals to try and make a political point. But it
contains within it the kernel of what we may have to do, which is thinking about major redistribution of population across the planet.
Now, that potentially requires a degree of cooperation that we don't seem to have shown the ability to manage. And climate change is the perfect
parallel because it's inextricably linked to this is that we're still struggling to bring down emissions. We're still struggling to deal with the
potential issues, in terms of mitigation of climate change.
CRAWFORD: -- with the potential issues in terms of mitigation of climate change. But if we don't think about it, the humanitarian crisis that we
face is going to be unprecedented.
SIDNER: You know, within countries, there is migration as well because of the desertification of areas, people are moving in. And there is even, you
know, some issues there with tensions that rise. I have a question that, you know, will probably upset a lot of governments, but, is there ever a
time when the borders don't exist? When humanity says, this -- we can't do this anymore because of climate change, most likely?
CRAWFORD: I mean, I think, in many ways, I wrote the book to look at this and say, well, our borders are actually failing us? You know, they are not
natural. They are not a given. We don't have to have this system. There are alternatives. Trying to reach a point where we can explore those
alternatives is going to be incredibly difficult.
I mean, there is no bones about it. There is no way that borders are something that's going to disappear across the world. It's not saying (ph)
there isn't precedent, withing Europe and with the Schengen Agreement, you know, hundreds of millions of people could move between countries without
there being any border checks.
There are still external borders in Europe, of course, at that point. But I do think the trajectory of human events, global events, the existential
crisis that we are facing doesn't just mean it's time to think about this. We need to be asking these questions, asking if borders are failing us and
what other alternatives. Can borders change? They don't have to disappear, but can -- how they operate change?
And as you mentioned, internal migration, that is something that is going to be very significant within the United States, I think, over the next 50
to 60 years. A lot of research suggests people going to be moving from the Southern States, from the Midwest, because of the heat, because of drought,
heading towards places like California and farther up into Oregon.
And then of course, the other issue you have in America at the moment is that state lines can have an impact on a women's right to choose. So, you
know, there's all this kind of influences. You know, there is a mania for lines we're seeing at the moment. I just hope we can break out of that
mania in the next hundred years, because we really need to.
SIDNER: James, it sounds like you're arguing that governments should at least start looking at policies when it comes to borders that deal with
some of these larger issues such as climate change. James Crawford, "The Edge of the Plane: How Borders Make and Break Our World," a really
interesting book. Thank you so much for joining the program.
CRAWFORD: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: The lines that divide countries are also powerful in dividing society from within. As for example, racism carves its own boundaries. A
victim of racial profiling, Korean Immigrant Chol Soo Lee was sentenced to life in prison for San Francisco murder he did not commit.
In 1970s America, his case inspired a grassroots social justice movement in the Asian American community. Now, another critically acclaimed
documentary, "Free Chol Soo Lee," traces his story and the movement that led to his release.
Hari Sreenivasan talked to co-directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi, about the life and legacy of Lee.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks. Julie Ha, Eugene Yi, thanks so much for joining us.
First, Julie, for people who might not have watched the documentary, who is Chol Soo.
JULIE HA, CO-DIRECTOR, "FREE CHOL SOO LEE": Chol Soo Lee, he's the -- he was a Korean immigrant who was wrongfully convicted of a Chinatown gang
murder in San Francisco in the 1970s. And his case gets picked up by a Korean American journalist working for a mainstream newspaper, who
investigates and writes a series of stories that help trigger a landmark, Pan Asian American social justice movement, to free Chol Soo Lee. And so,
the story tells that story of his conviction, his -- the fight for his release. But also, what happens to him after his release. Unfortunately,
it's not a fairytale ending.
SREENIVASAN: Yes. Eugene, let's start at the beginning, if we can. What -- how did he grow up? What was his life like?
EUGENE YI, CO-DIRECTOR, "FREE CHOL SOO LEE": So, Chol Soo Lee was a child of the Korean War. He was born during the Korean War, actually on the --
the day that would become Korean -- or Korean Liberation Day, August 15th, in a broken home. And his mother married a GI, and came to United States.
He would join her once he was 12. After growing up in dire poverty, in Korea, in South Korea. And -- but once he came to the United States, it
wasn't quite the American dream that he had been hoping for. He had been hoping to come and be able to work and save money and send it money back to
his aunt and uncle in Korea. But instead, he met a series of obstacles that just made his life here very, very difficult.
He was bullied severely in the school. He was -- he was actually sort of gotten to a fight quite early on, was taken to the principal -- vice
principal. An altercation ensued between him and the vice principal and he was charged with battery as a child, as a minor.
And that sort of started him on his course through the school to prison pipeline that sort of was really the beginning of kind of the difficulties
that he had in America, that, in some ways, culminated with his arrest in 1973 for his murder that he did not commit.
CHOL SOO LEE, KOREAN AMERICAN IMMIGRANT: One night, the manager showed me his gun. It was the first time I ever held a gun before. I asked if I could
borrow it. Back in my place, I was cocking it back and forth, you know, messing around with it. Then I accidentally shot the wall. Five days later,
I was arrested. But when he told me it was for a murder, I couldn't believe what they were saying.
SREENIVASAN: You know, Julie, let's talk a little bit about the murder and the circumstances surrounding it. You go into the kind of initial police
reports. What was -- kind of at the core, what was wrong with that conviction in the first place?
HA: Yes. You know, when they arrested Chol Soo Lee, the reason the police focused on him was because they found a report of a police gun accident
that Chol Soo Lee was involved in just a couple days prior to the murder. And so, they did do a ballistics report. And basically, that instance was
about Chol Soo Lee accidentally firing his gun, in his room. And the police came and recovered the bullets from the room. Nobody was hurt, it was just
lodged into the wall.
But once the police did a ballistics test, looking at the bullets and the bullets that were used in the actual murder, they actually said it was a
match. Later, it was discovered that it was not a match, but that's what set them on the court even to focus on Chol Soo Lee.
And then -- but when you look at when they got to the actual murder trial, they had already discovered that that was a mistake and he, Chol Soo, was
convicted not based on material evidence, but based on the witness accounts of three white tourists who saw the killer for mere seconds from quite a
You know, you'll -- in our film, you will see that, you know, even during the murder trial, it's quite astounding because at one point, the arresting
police officer points to Chol Soo Lee and says, yes, that's the man I arrested. But he says that Chinese man sitting there. And even Chol Soo's
court appointed defense attorney did not correct that for the record and say, Chol Soo Lee really is actually a Korean, not Chinese.
And so, you know, there was some kind of racial profiling that seemed quite evident in this case. And, you know, K.W. Lee, the journalist in the
investigation on this case, he even made note of how when he talked to people on the ground in Chinatown, many people actually knew that, you
know, Chol Soo didn't commit this murder, they knew who the real killer was. And also, they knew a Chinatown gangs would not have hired Chol Soo
Lee, a Korean, to -- for this killing.
SREENIVASAN: At the time of his initial incarceration, it wasn't as big a story as it became after a single journalist started to investigated into
this. And tell us about the role that K.W. Lee played as a journalist and then, really, as someone in Chol Soo Lee's life.
HA: That's right. Chol Soo Lee was already four years into his life sentence by the time K.W. Lee stumbled upon the case. And K.W. heard about
the case from a Korean American social worker who just said in passing, it's so said, there's this young man and I think he was, you know,
railroaded for this murder.
And so, K.W. Lee like was surprised to hear about this Korean American who had been convicted by a jury of a Chinatown gang murder. So, he looked into
the case, and he was shocked that he was already finding evidence that seemed to really poke holes in the police and San Francisco D.A.'s
investigation and prosecution of Chol Soo Lee.
He actually -- you know, I think it's worth noting that he worked for a Sacramento newspaper called "The Sacramento Union," and he worked for six
months looking into this case on his own time and was just shocked by what he discovered. K.W. told us that actually this was like the first time in
his long -- decades-long career as a reporter where he did a story about a Korean immigrant, and he felt a real connection, even after -- you know, he
wrote a total about 100 stories on the Chol Soo Lee case.
SREENIVASAN: So, Eugene, it is not a simple narrative of an innocent man is behind bars because while Chol Soo Lee is in prison, he's accused of a
murder within the walls. How did K.W. Lee and, I guess, the movement that sprung up around Chol Soo Lee deal with that?
YI: You're right. It's a very difficult thing to try to convince folks of the innocents of this when he had to kill, in self-defense, while he was
behind bars. Another sad aspect of a timing of Chol Soo's life was that there was a tremendous violence in the California prison system at the
time. And that's where Chol Soo ended up and that's how he got caught up in this situation.
But to some level, it is a credit to two things. One, to the organizational abilities of the Korean immigrants who are there at the time. There was a
community of Korean immigrants in Sacramento that K.W. was a part of, and that formed a financial and an organization backbone for a lot of the
And the other part is really credit to K.W. Lee's ability and the way that his stories were able to frame Chol Soo's plight into something that was
broadly legible to the population at the time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leonard, what's to be gained by all this support? Anything?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You make it sound contrived. These people came because they wanted to come. So, they are doing it because they feel it is right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom for Chol Soo Lee. Freedom for Chol Soo Lee. Freedom for Chol Soo Lee. Freedom for Chol Soo Lee.
SREENIVASAN: This didn't automatically turn into, all right, let's open the gates and let him out. I mean, this was a long process.
HA: This was a long process. You know, Chol Soo was in prison for 10 years. The movement start -- the movement lasted six years. So, sustained efforts
of this very, you know, unique combination of people, as Eugene mentioned, Korean immigrants working alongside their third generation Asian American,
you know, young student activists, many of them, but working for six years to free Chol Soo Lee.
And having to -- basically, you know, they raised money through a lot of $5, $10 donations in order to hire good defense attorneys for Chol Soo Lee
and a good defense investigator. And that's how a lot of this evidence or even a new witness was uncovered. But it was -- you know, I think if you
ask any lawyer to overturn two murder convictions is unheard of in our criminal justice system. And so, in many ways, it's an extraordinary
movement. They sort of did the impossible.
SREENIVASAN: Chol Soo was in prison for 10 years. After he got out, or after he was released, his life was by no means smooth sailing. Tell us
about some of the challenges he faced.
YI: Yes. I mean, I do want to foreground just everything he had been through in his life before then. You know, from ages 20 through 30, he was
in prison for a murder he didn't commit. We don't get into it much in the film, but he spent much of that time in solitary confinement as well,
which, of course, intensifies that experience.
And so, he had spent his entire adult life behind bars, essentially, and didn't know how to be functioning on the outside, outside of institutional
context. So, there are the demons of institutionalization that have forced he was going to be less (INAUDIBLE).
There is everything he went through in his childhood, just from, again, coming -- growing up as a child of a war in a broken home and being in that
school to prison pipeline the way he had been. So, beyond that, on top of that, you throw on this -- the stature that he gained, you know. And he
spoke on that to a certain extent that, you know, this was -- this kind of iconic status was not something that he asked for.
And so, as he grappled with that, it wore on him and he really struggled with so much of it, but he struggled with disappointing all of the
activists so much because, you know, what we would often talk about was that the activists and his supporters often became something of a circus
family fort (ph). And they really tried to do what they could to help support him.
But at that time, there was no sense of what coming back into society would involve. There is no sense of this conversation about -- around recidivism
(ph) that we have more of now. And so, in that context, Chol Soo, you know, he fell into addiction and his life kind of spiraled out in the way that
anybody who has dealt with a family member or a loved one who has a struggle with addiction knows all too well how that can go.
SREENIVASAN: Julia, why make this film? Why make this documentary?
HA: Yes. Well, if -- the story is not known, and it needs to be known. This is an important part of history, not just Asian American history, I would
argue for American history. And I happen to have gone to the funeral of Chol Soo Lee in 2014. And it was actually there where I feel like looking
back, the seeds were probably planted to make this film. The activists who had come to Chol Soo's aid decades earlier where there. K.W. Lee was there.
And there was an emotion in there that just felt beyond grief for someone they had lost him and cared about that felt like there was just this
I was struck by how a couple of the activists were saying Chol Soo did more for them than he -- you know, than they did for him. Just deep regret that
they didn't do enough. And at one point, K.W. Lee stood up and he was clutching this Buddhist monk's walking stick that Chol Soo had carve for
him and he just said angrily, like, why is this story still underground after all these years? This landmark Asian American social justice movement
that coalesced around this poor Korean immigrant street kid, overturned two murder convictions, and succeeded in freeing him from prison? Why is this
case not known? It's not even taught in American Asian studies in universities and colleges.
And that was a deep ache for him because, I think, he knew how singular the story was and how consequential it could be. And that there could be a
meaningful legacy even today. And that's why we made the film. This story was too important to let it stay buried in history. And we just had to
excavate it and tell it while some of the firsthand sources were still alive to share the story.
SREENIVASAN: Julie, what is it about now that makes this film more relevant? I mean, we have just lived through -- or are living through a
pandemic, what we have seen increased amounts of violence against Asian Americans. We just recently had sort of another anniversary of the murder
of Vincent Chin go by. Why is this conversation important today?
HA: We feel like our film actually connects the dots between what's happening now and our history, which is not known. Some people, you know,
are surprised that there is -- that racism against Asian Americans even exists and it's not just microaggressions, it's actually racism in the form
of violence. We feel like our film is, you know, connecting to this history, where actually, there's a long history event Asian racism that
includes violence, that includes racial profiling and injustices within the criminal justice system.
So, we feel like that history is just so important for us to know in order for it to feed our consciousness, and also, you know, how it affects our
perspective today. Oftentimes, you know, I will say that Asian Americans maybe don't see ourselves connected to issues of incarceration, policing in
communities of color, reentry, but those are our issues too.
And if we know our history, we will see those connections more. We will understand why it's important, also, to care about Black Lives Matter and
what is happening with other communities and other causes. We can come to see those very organic intersections. We feel like our film could help
people draw some kind of inspiration from this group of people that came together at a time, I should note, when Asian Americans had very little
political power. And yet, they formed this movement against incredible odds. They fought and stood up to the criminal justice system, and they
asserted this very important principle, you know.
They coalesced around not somebody who was some undergrad at U.C. Berkeley who was wrongly convicted. It was this poor Korean immigrant street kid who
had a criminal record at the time, who was no model minority. And yet, they looked at him and said, you are worthy of our time, attention, love and
care, and we will dedicate six years of our lives to freeing you from prison. And I think that's such a powerful principle and act of courage,
conviction and compassion that could really just have such a lasting inspiration today.
And in a way, you know, extend the legacy of Chol Soo Lee in a way that I think would have wanted to see.
SREENIVASAN: Eugene Yi, Julie, thank you both so much.
HA: Thank you.
YI: Thank you so much for having us.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SIDNER: "Free Chol Soo Lee" is in cinemas now.
And finally, the Artemis 1 spacecraft may still be on earth, but ambitions continue to soar. NASA delayed lift off this morning after issues with its
third engine. And while this launch has been pushed back, excitement is still building for the next attempt.
The most powerful rocket in NASA's history, it's 42-day journey around the moon, will launch a new era of deep space travel, one which could see the
development of a lunar base and a mission to mars. Let's get the latest with Correspondent Rachel Crane who's at the Kennedy Space Center in
You just came out of a press conference, what did you hear?
RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Sara. So, we've all been wondering, what was the reason for this scrub? What was
the technical problem with engine number three that led to today being scrubbed? Well, we just got a little bit of information in a press
conference just now, and they say that it's actually, they're -- while they are still crunching the data, it doesn't look initially as though it was an
engine problem, it was more a problem with the cooling system of the engines.
Now, the propellant that is used is incredibly, incredibly cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. And before they put it through the engines,
they need to cool them. So, it's what they call a bleed, and that is where they think the source of the problem originated.
But as I pointed out, they are still crunching the data here. And they plan to have another press conference tomorrow where they will hopefully reveal
more information and we will have a better sense of if that backup Friday window that NASA was eyeing is actually feasible. And there is a backup to
the backup, which would be Monday.
But there is a possibility that this problem ends up being, you know, so significant that the rocket would have to be rolled back to the Vehicle
Assembly Building. And just the journey from the Launch Pad 39B to the Vehicle Assembly Building, that in and of itself is three and a half days.
So, then, you add on to that having to deal with the technical problem at hand, and then, the journey back.
So, you know, everyone here at the Kennedy Space Center and everyone at NASA is really hoping that this is an easy fix, and that they will be easy
to make that Friday launch attempt. But, as you know, today was a scrub, Sara. And people all around the world were excited about this potential
Artemis 1 launch. And today, getting here.
We got here -- you know, we left for the Kennedy Space Center about 2:45 in the morning. And the journey that usually takes 25 minutes from my hotel
took about an hour and 20 minutes. So, that just highlights to you how many people have flooded to the area to watch this launch. And as I drove in all
along the highway, people had camped out, thousands of them, to see this. So, you know, there's a lot of disappointed space spirits here, and as I
pointed out, all around the world, really. 4,000 registered watch parties were for this, Sara. So --
SIDNER: Rachel, I love nerding out with you. Yes. I love nerding out with you over this, over all that can happen during these things. And I think
one of the reasons why people were so excited is, I think, it's -- it hasn't been since 1972, Apollo, I think, 17, that crew that went into deep
space. And so, this is a big moment. It has been mostly -- you are seeing there the famous pictures of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the moon.
The Apollo Program that was -- what it was famous for.
And so, now, you've got this situation where the mission, I think, is about being able to create something sustainable for humans to be on the moon, so
that one day, they can go to mars. But there is something very different about this launch, I think. There are mannequins on -- there are mannequins
that are supposed to be going out. Can you tell us about that? Their names? They've got some kind of funny, cool, nerdy names.
CRANE: Yes. So, Sara, this is just a test launch. So, there were no humans on board. This was Artemis 1 leading to Artemis 2. That's supposed to be --
Artemis 2 is supposed to be the first crewed launch. But inside the Orion Space Capsule, there was what's been dubbed Moonikin Campos in the
commander seat. And he was wearing a full Orion space suit here, wearing tons of sensors to monitor the vibrations, the acoustics. Also, several
radiation sensors on him.
But that's all to gather data for when the actual crew, the actual astronauts are on board. There were two other additional mannequins, and
one of them wearing what's called AstroRad Vest, which is to potentially shield astronauts from the high radiation environment of deep space.
They're trying -- they have a control, and also one that is wearing the vest to see how effective it is.
So, a lot of science is also being conducted on this mission. In -- and those are just secondary objectives, Sara. You know, the main mission here
is really to make sure that this vehicle and this system works. Sara.
SIDNER: Rachel Crane, Moonikin Campos is looking quite dashing in the outfit. Thank you so much for joining us from Florida.
And that is it for now. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.