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CNN's Clarissa Ward Returns To Kabul One Year After City's Fall; Polio Detected In New York City's Wastewater, Raising Outbreak Fears; Would Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" Be Published Today? Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Today marks one year since the collapse of Kabul and the return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Images linger of the U.S. military's fast pullout two weeks later leaving the abandoned U.S. Embassy to Taliban forces after a war that lasted for two decades and Afghans chasing a plane taxiing down a runway.

CNN's Clarissa Ward was there one year ago in all the chaos and she is back there now for us this morning and joins us live from what used to be the U.S. Embassy. Clarissa, what do you see there this morning?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can see, John, for Taliban fighters, today is a day of celebration. They've declared it a national holiday.

And all day long there's been a steady stream of fighters pouring through this very well-known roundabout -- the Massoud roundabout. They are waving Taliban flags. They are carrying a lot of very heavy weaponry. And they're actually letting us film them, which is something of a change because, in the last year, they've been much stricter about how journalists operate on the ground and what we are, indeed, allowed to capture.

But today, for the Taliban, is all about celebration. And that compound behind me -- the U.S. Embassy compound -- of course, very much a focal point of what this celebration is all about. The Taliban declaring this the liberation -- the victory of the Afghan Jihad against the American occupiers.

But I do want to stress even though you're seeing these scenes -- these dynamic scenes of people driving through, looking jubilant with victory, there are so many people in Kabul today who are not celebrating, and there are so many across this country who are facing a huge amount of challenges -- the economic situation here, the human rights situation here. The fact that girls still cannot go to school beyond sixth grade. All of these posing huge challenges. And yet, for the Taliban, they view this as an emblematic victory and a real symbol of the defeat of the U.S. You know, just before we started talking, John, a man actually came up

to me and pressed a piece of paper into my palm and said, "I used to be an interpreter for the U.S. forces and I'd like to tell you my story."

And it's worth reminding our viewers today that according to the State Department, roughly 160,000 Afghans and their family members are eligible for these so-called SIVs (Special Immigrant Visas) that would allow them to leave Afghanistan. The problem is those visas are being processed at a glacial rate for a number of bureaucratic reasons. And so, there are still many people here who didn't make it out that day or in the two weeks afterwards who still feel in fear for their lives.

So, a very mixed picture despite these scenes of jubilation and victory that you're seeing playing out behind me.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And so, what are those people doing, Clarissa -- the people who were eligible to seek refuge in the U.S. and were not able to do it during the chaotic drawdown? I know that some of them have tried to go over land -- an extremely dangerous journey -- but that's just a very small few.


WARD: One of the real stumbling blocks here, Brianna, is that in order to get that visa you need to do an in-person interview. That in- person interview used to take place in the U.S. Embassy. Obviously, that is no longer an option and there is yet to be a sort of mechanism, therefore, to allow those people to have their interviews. So, yes, some of them are trying to get to Pakistan. They're trying to get to other neighboring countries where the U.S. does have a presence where they can do those interviews.

But even regardless of that one issue, the U.S. is completely overwhelmed by the avalanche of applications that they have had. And so, it is just taking a very long time to process those applicants. The State Department saying there's no guarantee that they will be able to process them even by the end of President Biden's term, Brianna.

BERMAN: Clarissa, can you just explain what's happening behind you? Who are these people driving through? What flags are they waving? I mean, is this a parade? And also, like, what is the U.S. Embassy in Kabul now?

WARD: So, these people are largely Taliban fighters and Taliban supporters. They're waving the white flag that is now the flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which has written on it in calligraphy the shahada -- the Islamic proclamation of faith. And most of them -- I will say, we're not seeing a huge amount of ordinary civilians coming out and celebrating. The majority of people who we are seeing out on the streets today -- they are carrying weapons and they are attached to the Taliban.

So, we tried to go to the U.S. Embassy about six months ago or just a little bit longer. It's essentially completely locked down. You can't get in there at all. So, ostensibly, it's empty and it's not being used for anything -- although, obviously, it's very difficult for us to know what may or may not be happening inside.

The U.S. Embassy did take some time to evacuate their people. One can only assume that all sensitive documents were either shredded or burned or removed during that process.

And again, you can see here these look like some younger men carrying that distinctive white flag and as I said, being largely friendly to us. For the most part, I would say our presence has been sort of barely tolerated but today is a different day. Today is a celebration for the Taliban and so the mood and atmosphere on the streets is really much more similar to what we saw exactly one year ago when I was talking to you as they had just taken control of the capital and really changed the fate of Afghanistan forever.

BERMAN: What a year. And Clarissa, you were there one year ago. You are there this morning. Thank you so much to you and your team for your reporting. Please stay safe.

So, officials call the detection of polio in New York alarming but not surprising. Why they say circulation is already, quote, "likely."

KEILAR: And Iran placing blame for the brutal stabbing of author Salman Rushdie on Rushdie. The latest on his recovery this morning.



BERMAN: After six seasons, "BETTER CALL SAUL" is coming to an end. The AMC show, which is a spinoff of "BREAKING BAD," will say goodbye to Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman one last time. The series finale airs tonight on AMC.


JEANIE BUSS, PRESIDENT, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time.


KEILAR: In the trailer for NBA 2K23, Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss calls Michael Jordan the greatest there of all time. The statement coming as a shock to some people after having some of the greatest players, like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and many others on her own team.

BERMAN: Kurt Rambis.

Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, will visit the U.K. and Germany in September. A spokesperson says the couple is delighted to visit with several charities. The 4-day trip will mark their first return to the U.K. since Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June. KEILAR: There is increasing concern this morning surrounding the

reemergence of polio after strains of the virus were detected in New York City's wastewater. The state's health commissioner said that for one -- every one case that is identified, hundreds more may be undetected.

Joining us now is the former acting director of the CDC, and the president of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, Dr. Richard Besser. Dr. Besser, it's great to have you because I know that a lot of parents are very concerned about this right now.

What does that tell you that polio is detectable in New York City's wastewater?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, PRESIDENT, ROBERT WOODS JOHNSON FOUNDATION (via Webex by Cisco): You know, Brianna, what it says to me is that we are -- we are always at risk of new infectious agents or infectious agents that we thought were in our history of them coming back to our country.


And what it says to me as a -- as a pediatrician and a -- and a parent is it's so important to ensure that our children are vaccinated fully and on time so that if and when things like polio are reintroduced to our country, our children are safe and protected. And there are a lot of children out there who are not fully vaccinated -- a lot having to do with COVID and having challenges getting in just for regular childhood visits.

KEILAR: Is the U.S. ready for this?

BESSER: Well, what really concerns me is some of the conversation about vaccines and whether vaccination should be something that's purely personal choice and whether we're (INAUDIBLE) enough to ensure that every child has the access that they need. We ensure that children are vaccinated when they start school to protect those children, but also to protect those around them.

And so, it's very good that New York is monitoring their wastewater. Poliovirus is one of those viruses that's excreted in the stool and so you can monitor wastewater to see if it's in the community. But when you see a signal like this it should be an alarm. It should be an alarm for every parent and for every pediatrician to ensure that every child is fully vaccinated.

KEILAR: I've heard a question from parents that I think maybe you can answer that would be very helpful, which is if their child is vaccinated, does that stop them from catching polio, or would that mean that they might catch polio but they could be an asymptomatic carrier? And this is something that's going to be especially pertinent to families who have smaller children who haven't had all of the vaccinations.

BESSER: Right. So, polio vaccine is highly effective. So if your child is fully vaccinated, the chances that they get -- they get polio are miniscule. The big risk though is for, as you're saying, unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children. Children start the polio vaccine series when they are two months of age. There's four doses in that primary series.

And there are times when polio is circulating, so this is something the World Health Organization is dealing with around the globe as they try and wipe polio off the face of the earth.

When there is a case of polio, there are strategies that are sometimes employed where they give children an extra dose of polio vaccine. That's not recommended right now in this country but I'd pay attention to what public health does if this were to spread -- if it were to increase. There may be that recommendation.

KEILAR: Dr. Besser, I also want to get your insights on the CDC updating their COVID guidance. You know what some of these things are about -- removing longtime things that we've had in place, right? That 6-foot distancing, getting rid of quarantine after potential exposure.

I have a couple of questions for you. One, what do you think about these guidelines because in a lot of places people were already doing this? And knowing that, in coupling it with monkeypox and the way that the U.S. has not really been prepared for that, is the CDC really on the -- you know, are they leaning forward on this? Are they leading on this?

BESSER: You know, I -- when I read the current CDC guidelines -- the updated guidelines -- I think that they're appropriate. I think they're catching up, as you're saying, with what a lot of people are doing. And what they're recognizing is that it's important to pay attention with what's going on in the community. When levels are high -- when they're red, you may want to take more precautions than when they're at lower levels.

But that we're in a different situation than we were a year ago, then we were two years ago in that COVID has come through our communities. There's a much higher level of population protection because of that. There are safe and effective vaccines and treatments available.

What really concerns me is the number of people who are due to receive vaccines who have decided I'm not going to get that booster. I'm not going to get that additional shot. And I think that's a really bad idea because this pandemic is not over. There are over 400 people who are still dying every day. And these measures that you take -- you can reduce the chances that you or a loved one has a bad outcome from COVID and we shouldn't take that lightly.

While, at the same time, I think it is a really good move to try and get children in school as much as possible, learning. It's so important for their social-emotional health, for their development, and for their academic success. And we need to make sure that every child in every community --


BESSER: -- regardless of income, has what they need to be safe.

KEILAR: Dr. Richard Besser, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

BESSER: My pleasure. Thank you.

KEILAR: Ahead, some new revelations this morning about the events that led up to the FBI's search of former President Trump's home. What we're learning and the conflicting defenses from Trump and his team and supporters.


BERMAN: And what's next? What legal troubles could the former president face? A NEW DAY special report ahead.


BERMAN: Author Salman Rushdie is off a ventilator and recovering in a Pennsylvania hospital after sustaining multiple stab wounds on Friday while on stage preparing to give a lecture. Rushdie was the target of a religious decree calling for his death after his novel the "The Satanic Verses" sparked outrage in Iran in the late 1980s. Overnight, Iran blamed Rushdie and his supporters for the attack on Rushdie and denied any connection to the assailant.

John Avlon with more in today's Reality Check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Even amid the joys of summer, we receive periodic reminders that evil exists. And that happened again on Friday when author Salman Rushdie was stabbed on stage at Chautauqua in western New York just as he was about to give a speech on why America is a safe harbor for authors and artists from around the world.

Now, Rushdie should be best known for brilliant novels and essays, including the prize-winning "Midnight's Children." But unfortunately, Rushdie is best known as the target of a Fatwa, a death sentence handed down by Iran's former Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 in response to the book "The Satanic Verses," a magical realist tale, which does not treat the Muslim prophet Muhammad with the respect to which some followers believe he is entitled.


And here's the thing, of course. Free speech doesn't stop when someone is offended even, and perhaps especially when followers of a specific religion are offended. And that's why another key value of liberal democracy is separation of church and state. The alternative is called theocracy and that's what Iran is a prime example of.

Now, for years, Rushdie lived mostly in hiding, protected by security services, laboring under a death sentence and a life sentence, as the great author Martyn Amos noted.

But in recent years when the storm of clouds seemed to have parted, Rushdie started to get out more, declaring his determination to live his life free from fear. But fear caught up with him on Friday in the form of a 24-year-old who was not even born when the offending book was released and who likely, like Ayatollah Khomeini, may have never actually read it. I guess murderous intolerance is easiest when approached with willful ignorance.

Now, we are obliged to call Rushdie's assailant his alleged attacker and to point out that he has pleaded not guilty, to which we should add that he was apprehended on stage after a roomful of witnesses watched him stab Rushdie in the neck, face, and stomach. Likewise, headlines dutifully declared that police were still seeking a motive in the stabbing, but forgive me for suggesting you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure that one out.

Speaking of headlines, Iran conservative regime-backed papers lost no time in praising the attempted murder. For example, a hardline newspaper backed by the government editorialized "Bravo to the warrior and dutiful man who attacked the Apostate and wicked Salman Rushdie. The hand of the warrior must be kissed. He tore the vein of Rushdie's neck."

Such blood-thirsty comments are of little surprise when the Islamist government of Iran is less a republican than a theocratic version of murder incorporated with state-sponsored terror attacks and government execution sprees.

But even as we reflect on how its imposition on Persian culture will be seen as a period of oppression in the fullness of time, let's not get too comfortable in our own civilizational self-congratulation.

Yes, the United States is a safe harbor for dissident authors and artists from around the world, which is one more reason to embrace our tradition of robust and expansive refugee laws. But let's be honest, also. Our own commitment to freedom to speech has eroded in recent years, often but not exclusively out of fear of offending one group or another.

Rushdie's longtime friend Tina Brown told me, "The sad truth is that The Satanic Verses would never get published today. Timidity and fear of cancellation on multiple fronts has cowed publishers into a craven, risk-averse fear of giving a platform to writers who cause offense." Let that sink in and admit she's got a point.

The Fatwa is designed to spread fear and the calculated goal of this controversy is to make people think twice before greenlighting anything that could seem critical or offensive to a fundamentalist vision often of this specific religion.

While America's strength stems from our diversity, it also requires a respect for baseline values rooted in the Constitution.

Salman Rushdie has long survived as one of the great symbols of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. In response to the attack, Rushdie's books have rocketed up the charts -- a heartening sign of defiance against fear. The additional good news is that the 75-year-old Rushdie seems to be

on the mend though it appears his injuries include the possible loss of an eye. It's safe to say, though, that even then, he will still see farther than most of us.

And that's your reality check.

A NEW DAY special report starts right now.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been very cooperative and turned over everything that we found that we had.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): The FBI raid of President Trump is a complete abuse and overreach of its authority.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Some of those documents were marked top secret, sensitive compartmented information. So the fact that they were in an unsecured place is deeply alarming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're on the right side of history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are dedicated law enforcement officers and it's dangerous because we saw the one incident already, but there are threats all over the place.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: Any threats made against law enforcement, including the men and women of the FBI, are deplorable and dangerous.


KEILAR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. I am Brianna Keilar with John Berman this morning.

And this is a NEW DAY special report on the unprecedented search of former President Trump's home, and in its wake, the ongoing threats against American law enforcement.

For the next hour, we have brand-new reporting on what the FBI found, why they went in, and why national security is at the heart of the search.

BERMAN: The reporting this morning, at least one attorney for the former president signed a written statement in June claiming that all materials marked classified at Mar-a-Lago had been returned to the government. Based on what we saw last week, that appears false.

Trump has made a lot of claims about why those documents were in his Mar-a-Lago home. Now he says there are documents that fall under attorney-client privilege and should be returned immediately. Worth noting, this is a separate issue from the laws that the FBI suggested might have been broken.