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Chuck Hagel is Interviewed about the 9/11 Anniversary; Investigation into Eight Unvaccinated Pregnant Women's Deaths; Breyer Comments on Texas Abortion Law. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 09:30   ET



KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: These private individuals and the State Department, but there was also frustration on behalf of these private groups, that the State Department wasn't paying them enough attention, that they felt slighted, that they felt that they were considered ad hoc efforts when they considered what they were doing to be very significant with regard to the successes of getting out some of these Americans recently.

So the White House has approved this effort to formalize and organize efforts to try and streamline these efforts to get out Americans, to get out legal permanent residents of the U.S. and Afghans. That will be led by the State Department.

Notably, however, it comes after the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Mark Milley, met with some of these private outside actors earlier in the week and proposed that there was such an organization that came to fruition. But the State Department will lead this effort. We'll learn more about that in the days to come.

However, it's also significant that on that flight yesterday that got out, the Qatar Airways flight, there were ten American citizens, 11 permanent, legal residents of the United States on that flight. We're waiting to hear about how many Americans were on that flight that left the Kabul airport today.

But it's significant that earlier in the week, Secretary of State Tony Blinken voiced frustration, saying that the Taliban were preventing flights from taking off from another airport in Kabul. Yesterday, we saw a different tone from the administration when these flights took off.

I want to read to you what the spokesperson from the NSC, Emily Horne, said after those flights with Americans took off. Saying, quote, the Taliban had been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful legal permanent residents on charter flights. The administration will continue these efforts to facilitate the safe and orderly travel of American citizens, lawful permanent residents and Afghans who worked for the U.S. and wish to leave Afghanistan.

Of course, a significant group in there is the Afghans because we have not yet seen any Afghans on these early flights taking out from Kabul. Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Right, and that will be the big challenge going forward. Many tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S.

Kylie Atwood, at the State Department, thanks very much.

A reminder that our colleague, Jake Tapper, has a new CNN special report about America's longest war and what went wrong in Afghanistan. It will air Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific Time.

Well, tomorrow, when the nation observes 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, it will be the first time we've done so as a nation without any troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

Joining me now is former U.S. defense secretary, former U.S. senator as well from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel.

Secretary, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: You are a veteran of Vietnam. And you saw the dangers of American military involvement in Iraq. You opposed the Iraq invasion. And in Afghanistan, you opposed Barack Obama's surge there.

And I'm going to quote you. You said this 11 years ago, in 2010, to "The Atlantic Magazine." I'm not sure we know what the hell we're doing in Afghanistan. It's not sustainable at all. I think we're marking time as we slaughter more young people.

I wonder, in your view, was Afghanistan lost long before the U.S. withdrawal last month?

HAGEL: In my view, it was, Jim. And it goes back to what I said ten years ago. We lost our way. We didn't really understand why we were there. I remember Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings when we would have all the senior members of the Bush administration up asking them questions. Is this nation building? What are we doing? Have we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish? Where are we going? Do you need more troops, less troops?

And this just carried through for the last 20 years. And it put our military, especially, in a very difficult position because they were charged with doing whatever we were supposed to be doing, and they weren't getting a clear direction.


HAGEL: And I think the fact is really in 2003, when we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and went to Iraq, everything shifted. We took resources out. Our strategic interests. Everything was the Middle East and Iraq. That was really the beginning of it.

And then we just, from there, lost our way. We kept putting more money in. The government kept becoming more corrupt. And it ends the way it ends.


HAGEL: The reality is, Jim, occupiers can only stay for so long because the people will resist. And you can't impose democracies on other countries. You can't impose our culture on other countries. They have to decide that with you. You can help them, but you can't decide it for them.

SCIUTTO: Why didn't we learn that lesson as a country? I mean as you're describing those circumstances, you're basically describing the lesson of Vietnam, right, the occupiers lost to what was really a national movement there, right?


And then a couple decades later we start another couple wars longer than Vietnam. Why didn't we learn that lesson, and have we learned that lesson now?

HAGEL: Well, I hope we learned that lesson now. We don't -- we don't pay attention to history because we're a large, wealthy country. We had a lot of arrogance involved over the last 20 years. We're going to shock and awe everybody. We're going to shock and awe you in Iraq and the Middle East and Afghanistan. Well, it doesn't work that way.

And the lessons of history are important. They're never exact, but the parallels do reach out to the realities of the present. And you've got to understand that. And it's -- this business is imperfect anyway. And you've got a complicated world. The world is more complicated today than it's ever been in the history of mankind. It was 20 years ago. More people, more interests. And we were knocked off balance. And I think that's another part of why we really didn't come to grips with what we were doing and why.


HAGEL: We were really knocked off balance. I think we're still off balance politically, diplomatically, in every way.

SCIUTTO: You understand the sacrifice of service. You were wounded as well in Vietnam. How do you speak -- and as defense secretary, you met with soldiers and service members all the time. How do you speak to them now, to both service members who are veterans of the Afghan War, but also families who lost sons and daughters there? What do you say to them about their sacrifice and their service, and what it meant?

HAGEL: Well, I have done that on many occasions, unfortunately.


HAGEL: And I think I've always taken the approach that when you talk to parents and the relatives of loved ones who were lost in any conflict, you, I think, focus first upon what each individual tried to do for his country because his country asked him or her to do something special. They didn't have any choice in the matter. I mean, yes, in an all-voluntary army, you have a choice whether you go in or not.


HAGEL: In Vietnam, we didn't. I mean you were drafted and that was it. But you try to focus on what the individual contributed to making a better world. And I think that's the most basic and most important thing that you can talk about, because I think that's true. And the politics and the strategy and the policies all get mixed up in that. But keep it focused on the individual and what he or she tried to do and did do to contribute to make a better world for more people.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's a good message and I hope folks at home, maybe they served or a member of their family served, hear that message.

Chuck Hagel, thanks so much for your service and thanks for joining us this morning.

HAGEL: Thanks, Jim. Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Well, a family of one of the victims from the World Trade Center will attend tomorrow's 9/11 memorial service for the first time ever. Dorothy Morgan worked as an insurance broker in the North Tower. Her daughter, Nykiah, says one of her fondest memories was watching her mom do her hair and makeup as she got ready for work every morning. There she is. But after the towers fell, Dorothy's remains were never identified until a DNA match came through just a few days ago. They're still working at this. Nykiah told CNN she was in denial for years.


NYKIAH MORGAN, HER MOTHER, DOROTHY, DIED IN THE NORTH TOWER: September 11th on my calendar didn't exist. It was September 10th, September 12th. On the 11th, I did nothing. If it was a workday, I stayed home. I didn't answer the phone. Didn't watch television at all. Nothing. September 11th did not exist for me for many years.


SCIUTTO: That's a tough day for so many Americans. Nykiah says that tomorrow when she reads her mom's name aloud at the memorial service, it will be the first time she's ever been to Ground Zero. It will be the same for her mom's best friend, who will be by her side tomorrow.



SCIUTTO: An alarming medical trend developing in the state of Mississippi. In recent weeks, eight pregnant women who were unvaccinated have since died from COVID-19. Now the state department of health is investigating.

I'm joined now by Dr. Michael Errico. He's a critical care physician at Singing River Health in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Doctor, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, I mean, the good side of this is that all of these women's babies were born premature, but are alive. Sadly, though, the women died. And, listen, we've been talking about this for some time because there's been concern out there that the vaccine might be dangerous for pregnant women. The data has shown it's not. And yet, in these cases, you have women, in effect, fearing the vaccine more than COVID, and then, unfortunately, lose their lives. I wonder how you try to get the message across.

ERRICO: I think the message that we try to convey across the board, even with pregnant women, is that, yes, the vaccine is safe and, as you had mentioned, the studies prove that.


It was something that we have to still try to implore people, educate people on, especially those that are pregnant. It is a very unfortunate circumstance that eight have since passed from this. It's still something that we need to educate those about and encourage them to get the vaccine despite being pregnant.

SCIUTTO: It's amazing the babies were born safely. Tell us how they're doing.

ERRICO: So, from what I know is that the babies are all healthy. They were mostly delivered emergency section (ph). I do not know if they have had any complications or signs or symptoms of the virus. But I know they are all healthy and they are all thriving and doing very well.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, and I know that some of them are not in your hospital there, but it is good to hear that piece of good news.

Big picture I want to ask you, you heard the president yesterday now pushing towards mandates for vaccines. Any company, 100 or more employees, et cetera.

As a doctor, do you think mandating is now the way to go to try to get to those people who are still refusing?

ERRICO: I don't think so. It's something, obviously, that's in its infancy, that he stated yesterday. It would be highly encouraged, obviously, to help decrease hospitalizations, opening up more of what we're allowed to do here in the hospital, not just with COVID in our ICU. But with it being in its infancy, I think we have to, again, educate those on the importance of getting the vaccine. Mandating right now, I don't know how well it will transpire across the board, both in a health care institution, as we have seen before, as well as other private businesses. I think it's something we have to assess on a daily basis and continue to encourage people to get vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: I wonder what's working. We just showed on the screen the vaccination rate for the state of Mississippi. It's just over 40 percent, which is far below the national average. This is for fully vaccinated people, which as you can see on the screen, 53.4 percent. So what works then? You say education. What is getting through, in your experience, to folks who are still refusing to take the shot?

ERRICO: Unfortunately, I think what's taking those who are still hesitant about receiving the vaccine is, they know someone or one of their loved ones has become ill with the virus.


ERRICO: That has just been my experience here at our institution, here at Singing River. Those drastic steps I think need to be prevented to allow somebody to get the vaccine or encourage them to get the vaccine. You know, this has been a hot button topic for a long time that we see since the vaccine has been out. And we just have to continue to push and hopefully encourage those that, yes, it is safe, yes, the side effect profile is safe for those even pregnant, and continue to try to work with our brothers and sisters and our neighbors and make sure that they're safe.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, I wish you luck, man. I know -- I know those conversations can be hard and it's hard to convince folks. But you certainly see the results here of refusing to get the shot.

Dr. Michael Errico, thanks so much.

ERRICO: Thank you, sir.

SCIUTTO: Very, very, very wrong. Strong words from Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court decision to let the Texas abortion law, a very restrictive one, stand. Hear his comments, next.



SCIUTTO: Texas Governor Greg Abbott says that he is confident the Supreme Court will uphold the state's restrictive abortion law passed just days ago. This afternoon the Justice Department announced Thursday it's going to sue Texas over its ban on all abortions after six weeks with no exception for rape and incest.

CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid joins us now.

Paula, you know, interesting because some pretty strong comments, at least from one of the liberal justices on the Supreme Court.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's rare that you hear from a justice like this, Jim.

What's so interesting in this case is that this law was designed to thwart legal challenges. And the big question is whether the Justice Department has now come up with a lawsuit that will allow the justices to once again potentially take on this particular case and answer the question about whether this law is constitutional. Now, the first step for this Justice Department lawsuit is a federal

judge in Texas. We know it's been assigned to Judge Robert Pitman. Now he historically has been sympathetic to arguments related to this law. The next step, though, would be the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, traditionally conservative on the issue of abortion, and then the Supreme Court.

But what's so unique about this law is usually you would sue to ask the justice or the judges to stop the state of Texas from enforcing this, but this law was designed to get around that, so it deputizes every citizen in the state to be able to enforce this law. And the Justice Department is now effectively asking the courts to stop every citizen of Texas from being able to enforce this law. And, Jim, that is really unusual.

Now, the Supreme Court has already declined to stop this law once. A majority of the justices let it go ahead. Now Justice Breyer, he was not in the majority. But in an interview with NPR, he really expanded on his feelings about this particular decision.


JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: I thought the last decision you mentioned was very, very, very wrong. I'll add one more very. And I wrote a dissent. And that's the way it works. But it's a procedural matter and so we'll see what happens in that area when we get a substantive matter in front of us.



REID: Incredibly unusual to hear a Supreme Court justice talking about a case like this that is live, that is likely to come back before them shortly. But it's unclear if the justices will take this opportunity to weigh in on whether this law is constitutional.

SCIUTTO: That is four verys by my count there from Justice Breyer.

Paula Reid, thanks very much.

Well, President Biden is getting tough on millions of unvaccinated Americans, delivering a blunt message that his and the nation's patience is wearing thin. Now he's targeting the unvaccinated with a series of sweeping new mandates. Will the strategy work?