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13 People Killed as a Result of Crackdown on Kurdish Cities; Iran Used Sexual Violence to Crush Protesters; U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris to Run as Running Mate if President Joe Biden Runs Again in 2024; Special Counsel Takes Up Trump Investigation; Russia's War in Ukraine; Russian Senator, NATO Supplying Weapons to Ukraine and Calling for Peace are "Mutually Exclusive"; U.S. Brace for Wet Holiday Weather; Orion Spacecraft Completed Flyby of the Moon. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired November 22, 2022 - 04:30   ET




BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to "CNN Newsroom." I'm Bianca Nobilo.

And if you're just joining us, let me bring you up to date with our top stories this hour. Court documents show the 22-year-old suspect who went on a shooting spree in an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado is facing multiple murder and hate crime charges.

And rescuers are searching for survivors after a devastating earthquake triggered landslides in Indonesia. At least 103 people are dead. And authorities say that number could rise.

In Iran, the situation continues to be volatile as the government intensifies its crackdown in the Kurdish region. A human rights group based in Norway tells CNN that at least 13 people have been killed in Kurdish cities in the past 24 hours. This, as an internet watchdog says, cellular data was down in Kurdish areas for hours. Since protests started over Mahsa Amini's death, Iran's regime has unleashed a campaign of repression. Eyewitnesses tell CNN that sexual violence is being used to suppress, demoralize, and in some cases blackmail protestors.

CNN's Nima Elbagir has this exclusive report. But we want to warn you, the report contains details of sexual violence.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Over these mountains is Iran. A regime that has succeeded in cutting many of its people off from the outside world. But disturbing stories detailing the authority's brutal retribution, systematic sexual violence against anti-regime protesters have begun leaking out. We've come here to the Kurdish region of Iraq to try and find out more. This is Hannah (PH), not her real name, a Kurdish Iranian woman recently smuggled out of Iran. She fears for her life. After taking off and burning her head scarf on the streets, she was arrested and detained by Iranian intelligence officers.

HANNAH (PH), ARRESTED AND DETAINED BY IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS (through translator): They choose the woman who are pretty and suited their appetite. Then the officer would take one of them from the cell to a smaller, private room. They would sexually assault them there.

ELBAGIR (voiceover): Hannah (ph) isn't only an eyewitness. She also was violated.


HANNAH (PH) (through translator): I feel shy talking about this. You can still see what the policeman did. Look here on my neck, it's purplish. That is why I'm covering it. He forced himself on the.

ELBAGIR: Then a fight broke out with another protester, drawing away Hannah's (ph) attacker. Hannah (ph) and others could hear screams, and they believe a woman was raped in an interrogation room. Hannah sketched out the police station as she remembers it. She estimates 70 to 80 men and women were together in a main hall that accessed four private interrogation rooms.

It was in these interrogation rooms, she says, that she was assaulted and others were raped. CNN was able to locate the police station through Hannah's (ph) description, eyewitness corroboration, and geolocation using key landmarks. It's in the Islamabad neighborhood of Urmia.

Based on this testimony, I'm speaking to a number of sources, a pattern of repression comes into focus. Police centers used as filtration points, moving protesters from one location to another. Often families left not knowing where their loved ones are held.

One Iraq based Kurdish militant operation party pack, identified over 240 people, who they believe are missing within this maze of detention centers. Human rights organizations believe the number is higher, in the thousands. Some of the victims, as young as 14. Many are men, supporting female protesters. Their punishment as severe as the woman's.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They brought four men over who have been beaten, screaming intensely under the cell. And one of the men who was tortured was sent to the waiting room where I was. I asked him, what all that screaming was about? He said, they are raping the men.

ELBAGIR (voiceover): Based on witness testimony, CNN traced a location to an Iranian army intelligence headquarters. Voiced here by a translator, a 17-year-old boy sent CNN a voice note following his imprisonment. We are withholding his name and location for his safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When the security guard heard me discussing the rape of the other inmates, he started torturing me all over again. They tortured, raped me from behind.

ELBAGIR (voiceover): Even as authorities visited sexual violence on protesters, regime figures accused female protesters of prostitution, of quote, "Wanting to be naked." Of the incidents of sexual violence against protesters inside Iranians detention facilities, most occurred in the Kurdish majority areas to the west of Iran, home to a historically oppressed minority.

Disturbingly, in some cases, the rapes were filmed and used to blackmail protesters into silence. There has been a real escalation where female protesters are, as you can see here, being openly assaulted. Often, sexually. But the violence against women, like the protests, are not confined to the Kurdish areas. They are often focused on locations where the protests are most intense, like, here in the capital of Tehran.

One of these stories is Armita Abassi (ph), a typical 20-year-old on social media, sharing her love of animals and music. In social media posts, appearing under her name, Abassi (ph), like many young women in Iran, criticized the regime openly after the protests began. And like most, she did it without anonymity. It didn't take long for security forces to find and arrest her. Abassi (ph) disappeared.

Soon after whistleblowers began to post on various social media platforms, medics sharing eyewitness accounts of what had been done to Abassi. First of all, they say, there were a few plainclothesmen with her, and they did not let her out of their sight. Even during a private medical examination, they were there.

She was my patient. I went to her bedside. They had shaved her hair. She was scared and was trembling. When she first came, they said it was rectal bleeding due to repeated rape. The plainclothesmen insisted that the doctor write that the rape was from prior to her arrest. And then after this issue was becoming obvious to all, they changed the entire scenario altogether.

The details of these leaks were confirmed to CNN by an insider at Imam Ali Hospital where Abassi (ph) was brought to be examined. In a statement, the government said Abassi (ph) was treated for digestive problems. The medics who treated her said that was not true. The Iranian regime denies the rape, accusing her of leading protests, an allegation which could see her face the death penalty.


At this usually busy border crossing between Iraq and Iran, it is a deceptively quiet. Those who can cross, tell us the noose is tightening on protesters. Authorities have, for decades, used sexual torture against Iranians and, it appears, once more, a familiar pattern. Sexual violence deployed to enforce an assertion of moral guardianship.


ELBAGIR (on camera): Bianca, we have reached out to Iranian authorities and they have not responded to our request for comment. But for many of those that we're speaking to, their actions, specifically over the last few days, speak louder, really, than any of their words could. They are engaged in a continued horrifying militarized escalation in the Kurdish majority regions to the west where we tracked many of those rapes, too.

They also are engaged in an attempt to black out communication even further. What is really extraordinary, not only about the bravery of those men and women who were able to send us voice notes, who were able to get their stories and their voices out to us and to the rest of the world is they -- that they did this in the face of an increasing escalation, of an increasing attempt by Iranian authorities to block them and to silence them, and really to encircle them from the rest of the world.

And the sad thing is there really doesn't seem to be any respite on be the horizon. It's very clear that the Iranian authorities view what is happening, especially in those minority areas in the west -- in the Kurdish west as an existential threat, Bianca.

NOBILO: Nima Elbagir, thank you so much for that exclusive report.

Investigating Donald Trump. The newly appointed special counsel is getting down to business and there's a key hearing in the coming hours. We'll have more for you in a few.



NOBILO: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris intends to keep her job. She says, if President Joe Biden runs again in 2024, she will be his running mate. Her comments came aboard a Philippine coast guard vessel on her trip to Southeast Asia. Recent polls have shown a majority of Americans, even Democrats, do not want Biden to seek re-election.

In the coming day, U.S. Appeals Court will hear arguments about whether a so-called special master should be allowed to keep reviewing the records seized from Former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a- Lago estate. Government prosecutors say this independent arbiter is impeding their investigation and they want him gone. Meanwhile, a special counsel is now overseeing the Mar-a-Lago case as well as another criminal investigation. CNN's Katelyn Polantz has the details.


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: The Justice Department's newly appointed special counsel, Jack Smith, is getting down to business. He's getting to work only three days after his appointment by Attorney General Merrick Garland to take over two investigations around Donald Trump. And the first indications right now, are that the work that is already ongoing into those two criminal probes, it is not slowing down. So, Smith is going to be taking over a case that is about to be argued in a federal appeals court on Tuesday about documents that were seized from Mar-a-Lago. Donald Trump is trying to keep those documents away from criminal prosecutors.

In a court filing on Monday, the Justice Department showed to the court Smith's documents showing that he was writing his oath of office. He signed off on his oath of office that Merrick Garland commissioned him into this role to become the chief prosecutor over this investigation. And also said, Smith has reviewed the filings in this litigation and approves of all of the arguments that have been presented in the briefs and will be discussed at the oral arguments on Tuesday.

Also, stepping back, we've been hearing from sources the subpoenas that are out there trying to seek information from witnesses and from witnesses', both testimony and documents, in a federal court in Washington, D.C. those subpoena dates are not changing. Smith has sent the message to investigators who are working on these probes that he shouldn't be delaying any work as he's coming into place as the special counsel.

Now, he is in the Netherlands right now recovering from a bike accident but does plan to return to the United States to take over both of these criminal probes. Katelyn Polantz, CNN, Washington.


NOBILO: A senior Russian senator has a message for the west. Supplying weapons to Ukraine and the desire for peace are, "Mutually exclusive." His comments come just one day after NATO's Secretary General renewed calls for greater support for Ukraine as the fighting grinds on.

Let's head out to Moscow now where CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is standing by. Fred, you obviously monitor this very closely and have been to Moscow a lot throughout the year. Have you noticed any shifts in terms of Russia's rhetoric and posturing in terms of how they're framing this war to their domestic audience and the international community?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly does continue to change, Bianca. And it's been quite interesting over the past couple of months, especially to see how the Russians have, sort of, changed their narrative. Obviously at the beginning of the war and the initial invasion of Ukraine from various sides, the Russians believed that all of this would be over fairly quickly. And that was sort of the messaging that you then also saw on state TV but also from a lot of politicians that this would not affect the general population here in Russia. This would be over very quickly.

And that's certainly also what they seemed to project towards the outside as well. They were the dominant power. That they were going to get air superiority quickly and then end all of this quickly. It seems that has drastically shifted now from the part of the Russians. Right now, the sort of messaging that you're seeing, and I think that you saw out there from Konstantin Kosachev, as well who a very well- known senator in the Russian Federation counsel, they're essentially saying that it's the west that continues to fuel this conflict. They say it's the west that's supplying weapons that's keeping the Ukrainians fighting, and that it's Russia that's actually wanting to negotiate.

The Russians have said that there's no pre-conditions for the negotiating, but that it's the Ukrainians who were saying that under the current circumstances with, obviously, Russia annexing various areas of Ukraine, most of which the Russians don't even have under their military control, that the Ukrainians are saying they're not going to negotiate under those circumstances. And that's certainly where the Russians are trying to message that they are the ones who really want to resolve all of this.

It's interesting to see the nuances though when you look at the messaging towards the inside for the domestic audience. And I think it's quite surprising to some people that on state TV, for instance, you could almost get the impression that Russia's very close to winning and that it still strikes on the critical infrastructure here in Ukraine that's almost causing the Ukrainians to capitulate immediately.


Obviously, the reality on the ground seems to be a very different one. But you do see, really, a big shift that has occurred over time as far as messaging is concerned, Bianca.

NOBILO: Fascinating. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thank you so much for that report.

Wet and cold weather could force many Americans to change their Thanksgiving travel plans. Britley Ritz has the forecast, coming up.

BRITLEY RITZ, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The possibility for travel delays here in the upcoming days for your Thanksgiving as the next system sets up thanks to rain. We'll have the update here in the next few minutes.


NOBILO: Welcome back. As Americans prepare to visit their families this Thanksgiving, a series of storms could force them to alter their plans. Britley Ritz has the forecast. Britley.

RITZ: We're still dealing with some snow across the Great Lakes but nothing like we had before. Grand Rapids, Michigan, let me show you this, a record daily snowfall depth on Monday of 12 inches. Previous record was set back in 2014 at 10 inches. A new update for you, Hamburg now reaching the top spot, 81.2 inches.

[04:55:00] Thankfully, again, the snow finally winding down still with maybe one or two inches with this next moving clipper. But otherwise, high pressure is in control and it's moving further east which tries to help to warm us up.

But we're still dealing with winter weather with the next low-pressure system coming in over the Pacific Northwest. Winter weather advisories in effect the lower elevations through the cascades roughly about five inches of snow. But you get over 3,000 feet, now we're talking a foot which we need it in ski season starting to set up, and that's good there. But not so much when it comes to travel, especially on the holidays.

So, there's that quick-moving system rolling through early Tuesday and then into the Northern Plains late Tuesday, bringing in snow to possible Billings down into parts of Montana, as well as, Wyoming. The darker pinks that you're seeing, that's again, 10 to 12 inches higher elevations but lower elevations roughly about two to five inches.

All right. One front after the next reinforces the cooler air but right now, we have high pressure kicking in more of a southerly wind. So, we have temperatures back up into the 60s in Atlanta. And that warmer temperature trend holds over the next three days. As for precip, you saw that low moving in over the northwest.

And there's that front. And as that front moves down across into the south and that low moves in from the Gulf, we increase our rain chances, bringing in a substantial amount of rain across the southeast and down into the lower Mississippi Valley where we really need it. Where we've been under the drought. So, roughly two to four inches here in the upcoming days.

As for your Thanksgiving forecast, again, travel a bit dicey across the south and southeast as temperatures start to warm back up into the 60s and 70s.

NOBILO: Britley for us there.

NASA's one step closer to putting astronauts back on the moon. The Orion spacecraft completed a flyby of the moon on Monday, a critical step in the Artemis mission to reach Luna orbit. It's now set to spend nearly a month going around the moon, saving fuel and testing its system before heading back to Earth. The unmanned Orion will go more than 40,000 miles past the far side of the moon, that's about 65,000 kilometers, and further out than any spacecraft intended to carry humans has gone before.

So, that does it for "CNN Newsroom." I'm Bianca Nobilo, and "Early Start" is next.