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Sinn Fein Leader Declares His Innocence; Nigeria's Nightmare for Girls; Imagine a World

Aired May 9, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

The arrest and then release of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams this week created significant strain on the fragile truce in Northern Ireland. It comes after 16 years of relative peace, the result of a historic deal that formally ended decades of sectarian violence. And it's since been hailed as a blueprint for conflict resolution around the world.

But then Adams, one of its main architects, was arrested and questioned over four days in connection with the unsolved execution-style murder of a woman more than 40 years ago. And now the agreement faces one of its sternest tests yet.

The 1998 Good Friday agreement may have ended the open warfare and the bloodshed between the IRA, the British army and the Northern Ireland Unionists, but it did not help its victims or their families find truth and final reconciliation.

To this day, many violent crimes of the past remain unsolved and unresolved. The victim in this particular case was 37-year-old widow Jean McConville. In 1972, the mother of 10 was abducted by the IRA. She was falsely accused of being an informer, and she was dragged away as her terrified children watched. And later she was shot.

After the Good Friday Peace Accords, the IRA admitted to her murder.

Gerry Adams joined me for an exclusive interview just after he was released without charge in this case earlier this week.


AMANPOUR: Gerry Adams, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me.

GERRY ADAMS, SINN FEIN LEADER: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Let me quote something that you said about the murder of Jean McConville a few days ago when you were first taken in for questioning, quote, "I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family."

So you condemn that murder.

Can you categorically say that you had absolutely no association with any aspect of her disappearance and eventual execution?

ADAMS: Yes, I reject absolutely any allegation made against me. I am innocent of any involvement whatsoever in any conspiracy or in any of the events, including the abduction, the killing or the burial of Ms. Jean McConville.

And incidentally, I went voluntarily to the PS (ph), and I -- and furthermore, when this became a matter of public speculation 10 months ago, I contacted the PS (ph) and actually my solicitor and said I was available to talk to them because there has been a sustained vicious, untruthful and sinister malicious campaign against me going back some considerable time.

So I wanted (INAUDIBLE) from these issues.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Adams, you say that these were malicious lies.

Is it ominous for you, though, that these lies, as you put them, this story was told by members of the IRA themselves?

It wasn't by the British; it wasn't by Ulster Unionists. It was by Republicans to IRA members; Brendan Hughes, who was an IRA commander, told this journalist that Jean McConville was killed by an IRA group called the Unknowns and that you, quote, "had control" over this particular squad.

And then Dolours Price, who was a convicted IRA bomber, claimed that your role was officer commanding of the IRA's Belfast Brigade and that you ordered her to drive McConville to the Republic, the Irish Republic, where she was executed.

You deny it, but it's inside the Republican movement that is saying that about you.

Why are they saying that?

ADAMS: First of all, both these two individuals are deceased. They made these remarks as part of a very dubious project called the Belfast Project, which was the brainchild of a university lecturer, Paul Bew, a former adviser, political adviser to the Unionist leader, David Trimble.

A teacher, another former IRA volunteer, Anthony McIntyre and the journalist, Ed Moloney, both of whom are very hostile to the Sinn Fein leadership and to Sinn Fein's strategy, both the late Brendan Hughes and the late Dolours Price have said that I and others in the Sinn Fein leadership should be shot.

They've said they're against a peace process. They've accused us of betrayal, of sellout and they particularly have -- when they were about, railed against us and me particularly, for our support for policing and our support for the Good Friday Agreement, of which I was one of the people who helped to put that agreement together.

So these aren't -- these aren't, you know, anything other than totally disaffected and very, very hostile on the peace process former IRA activists.

Now --


AMANPOUR: Mr. Adams, you -- and I've asked you many times and many other people have asked you whether you were in the IRA, whether you were commander, whether you were a member of the IRA and you've always denied it.

But recently, including last night, you said, "I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will."

Are you moving finally towards admitting that you were in the IRA?

ADAMS: No, I'm not. I'm stating a fact. When the war was on, I did politically support the use of armed actions by the IRA as a legitimate response to British repression and British military occupation of a part of my country.

Of course I disagree with many of the issues and many of the things that the IRA did, including the killing of Ms. McConville and the way that her 10 children were left.

AMANPOUR: You have just said that you condemn the murder of Ms. McConville. She had 10 children. She was a widow. It turned out that she was falsely accused of rioting.

Her children basically say that they will never give up the fight for justice. And I'm wondering whether you believe that this case should continue to be investigated and what you have to say to the following, that Michael McConville said to our own CNN just this past week, when this issue of your interrogation came up.

Listen to what her son said.


MICHAEL MCCONVILLE, SON OF MURDERED WOMAN: When I was at the jail, they took me away. They put a hood across my hair. They held me tight to a chair. They beat me with sticks about the arms. They were sticking a real gun to my face. They told me what if I ever told anything about the IRA but what the (INAUDIBLE) shoot me or I'll shoot my whole family members.


AMANPOUR: So how do you respond to that? He's saying that he was threatened out and out by the IRA when he was a kid and thereafter. And that's why he won't release the names of those who he recognized or he knew and he saw dragging his mother away.

ADAMS: Well, Michael McConville wants to give names, he should do so. That's entirely his -- that's entirely his right. I've already said to you that Sinn Fein has signed up to; the British government hasn't. The Unionist parties haven't.

Sinn Fein has signed up to the Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan proposals, which include the right to those families -- and many don't want to take any legal redress.

But those who do have absolutely the right to do that, and that includes Michael McConville.

AMANPOUR: OK. Then I have to ask you again, this Michael McConville, who just told us that, told the BBC this morning that you warned him several years ago that there would be a backlash. This is what he said.


MCCONVILLE: Gerry Adams says to me, "Michael, you're getting a letter of support from the Republican people." He says, "If you release the names," he says, "I hope you're ready for the backlash."


AMANPOUR: Did you say that and what did you mean by that?

ADAMS: Well, first of all, I didn't say that. I have tried my best - - I can understand absolutely, given what Republicans have done to their family and to their mother, I can understand absolutely why the McConville family feel the way that they feel. So let me say that as a matter of record.

But I am very, very clear -- and they may reject this -- I have been trying my best to support and to help all of the victims.

But I have a particular wish to help the victims of the IRA, because I cannot rail against injustice from unionism or particularly from the British.

And remember, the British government even this week just rejected investigation into the killing of unarmed citizens in Ballymurphy, my home district, by British forces. So they knew there's double standards going on here.

But let me be very, very, very clear. I'm particularly moved by the need for Ulster's part of building the peace. Now we also ought to remind ourselves that we're living in an entirely different situation, that we need to keep our eye focused on the future; this is about building a new society.

Of course we need to deal with the past. Of course we need to deal with the issues of victims. But we cannot allow anything to divert us from the peace path and from building the peace. It just plays into the interests of the bigots and the negative, sinister elements who are out there.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Adams, everybody knows that you were the face of peace on your side and that you came forward to make the Good Friday Agreement and that you obviously believe in it very, very much.

How do you think this case is going to affect that going forward, including some of the failures both of Republicans and Unionists who just refuse to deal with issues such as nationalistic parades and flags, you know, the kinds of things that the Obama administration envoy was trying to get an agreement on?

ADAMS: First of all, well, I don't know if you have seen the footage of this, but when I was released last evening at a press conference, I underpinned my support for the PSNI and I underpinned my support for the peace process.

The PSNI visited my family home late last night and said that there was a serious threat to my life from what they described as criminals. So that's the risk that I and others have to take and are prepared to take because the peace process is bigger than us.

This is why we have to be very steadfast and resolute and patient as well. See, we want the maximum change. We want an end to partition. We want a united Ireland, and that can only be brought about peacefully and democratically, and now have a way of doing that.

Others don't want any change. Some in the elite circles are prepared to tolerate minimum change because that's same as the government or because it, you know, they want peace. But others don't. Others see equality, human rights, a citizen-based society, working of the Good Friday agreement has been against our interests.

And then you know yourself from your own life and I know this myself that any change can be challenging. People maintain that it's threatening or you know, it's something that some people aren't comfortable with.

So you know, for decades since our country was partitioned, some people have been told they are the people, you know, no surrender, not an inch, never, never, never. That was the mantra. Now good people on the Unionist side have come forward. And we are working with everyone that we can work with.

The effect of this controversy, it will not change Sinn Fein's commitment.

And I underpinned this again last night, to keep building the peace and to work in partnership with everyone regardless of their political background and to defend the rights of everyone and to tackle the hard issues of the past and particularly those which affect victims.

AMANPOUR: Gerry Adams, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

ADAMS: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And while many seek justice for the families over decades, like the McConville family in Northern Ireland, others are demanding justice right now. The people of Nigeria and the world are rallying to the social media cry, "Bring back our girls." It's even been joined by the U.S. first lady, Michelle Obama. And that's because nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from their school by the terrorist organization Boko Haram. We speak to the man often described as the conscience of Nigeria, after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

It is an abduction that has shocked the world. Nearly 300 girls were snatched from their school in the northeastern part of Nigeria and from the United States to the United Kingdom and the United Nations, it has triggered outrage and pledges of help for the Nigerian government.

The British and U.S. government have sent military, intelligence and hostage negotiating experts to help the government rescue the girls. Their very name, the name of the terrorist organization, Boko Haram means "Western education is a sin." And this chilling video of their leader, claiming responsibility and making outrageous threats galvanized the world.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): I say Western education should end.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Western education should end.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Nigerians are furious at the terror group and at their government. But it did take the government's most prominent author to call on the president to step up to the plate. Internationally renowned Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, often called the conscience of the nation, explained the existential crisis facing his country when he joined me in the studio this week.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Soyinka, thank you very much for joining me.


AMANPOUR: You heard that leader of Boko Haram say the most outrageous things, by Allah, I have the right to sell these girls into slavery. There's a market for them. Western education must be -- must be taken out of this country.

What do you make of what's going on in your country right now?

SOYINKA: It's a situation which has been left to fester. It was addressed very late and very casually, very lackadaisically. And now it's become not just a national problem but a West African problem because it's a force which destabilizes the entire nation.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it's a good thing and should your president accept the offer of help that the United States is giving, military personnel, hostage negotiation experts, all sorts of advice and probably materiel on surveillance and other such things?

SOYINKA: President Jonathan should have asked for it from the very beginning. I don't believe in false pride. The history of the movement which -- to which Boko Haram belongs or which it is a part, that tendency, that quote-unquote, if you like, "philosophy," is one which is a menace to the entire world, is not a Nigerian affair alone.

Even though I've been warning for years, it's not -- you know, for years about this menace, when it eventually escalates to this level, it's astonishing how one still feels, you know, literally eviscerated by the abduction of these girls.

AMANPOUR: You are a Nobel laureate yet I have said that you are the voice of a nation, maybe even a continent and a conscience as well.

Why is it that you've been warning?

And what exactly have you been warning about that hasn't been dealt with?

SOYINKA: I've been warning especially that the pinpricks of this movement are not confined to Nigeria. And that it should be recognized, those who understand the history of Algeria (ph), for instance, those who saw the career of the -- of the Taliban when they overran Afghanistan, those who cannot delude themselves that people are going to Somalia to be trained with Al-Shabaab, et cetera, et cetera, those who are conscious, what is happening in the rest of the world? Should have gone five years ago.

And they have been warned publicly. I've said it in lectures that the pinpricks you see all over the world are consolidating into a situation of internal war, insurrection by this group.

AMANPOUR: Now with these girls, the longer this goes on, the fact that it's so public now, what do you think is going to happen to these girls? I know nobody knows.

SOYINKA: I made a statement at the World Book Fair, at which I said confront the reality. It's painful; it's horrifying. I said these girls are going to be sold as sex slaves. I used that expression. I said let's not beat around the bush.

We're dealing with a monstrosity. We're dealing with an affliction the like of which the nation has never encountered. Understand that you must go in quickly. You must act rapidly because these girls are going to be traumatized in a way in which -- which is going to blast the rest of their lives.

AMANPOUR: And do you think it's right, the reports we hear about the first lady of Nigeria, criticizing activists who've been protesting in the streets and basically accusing them of bringing bad publicity and criticizing her husband's government?

SOYINKA: I made public statements about this woman who calls herself the first lady of Nigeria. I don't want to say anything more about her.

AMANPOUR: So OK. I won't push you on that.

There are many, many people who look at, for instance, neighboring Uganda, where we had Joseph Kony, the Lord's Resistance Army. They also took girls for years. It was going on for years. And it took years to get them back except for, for instance, that famous nun, Sister Rachele, I don't know if you remember, but in 1997, she followed them and brought at least some of them back, 30 remained.

This has been going on for a long time. It's afflicting different parts of Africa.

SOYINKA: I call attention to Joseph Kony --


AMANPOUR: And by the way, Joseph Kony's a Christian monster.

SOYINKA: And I'm very glad you mentioned, because I have mentioned Joseph Kony a number of times as a parallel to what is happening now so that it's to tell these Muslim fundamentalists that they shouldn't take pride in bestiality, that the Christian side also knows it. The issue's not religion. It's that fundamentalist fascism in which you feel that it's an act of domination, an act of domination. You prove what power you have in the environment in the little pond, you know, where you're operating. It's the same mentality entirely.

AMANPOUR: Has this abduction changed the Nigerian people?

And what does that mean for the government, particularly for these upcoming elections?

SOYINKA: Now if you like, the worms are turning. Where it will end, I do not know. But one thing is certain: the president and his government cannot sleep easy after what has happened to Nigeria. It is not possible. Any either pretend or real indifference or denial has ended. I'm convinced about that.

But also the situation is now beyond the capacity of the government. That's why I say the situation must be internationalized.


Wole Soyinka, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

SOYINKA: You're welcome.


AMANPOUR: Another powerful voice against these girls' abduction was my guest this week, Malala Yousafzai. She's the Pakistani teenager who risked death for the right to go to school. And she's now taken on the Nigerian cause, more innocent victims of militants misusing and wielding Islam against girls.

Finding the courage to speak out and fight back when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where girls are the most prominent targets of today's terrorists. Well, of course, we are already living that nightmare, the nightmare only seems to get darker and more terrifying now that almost 300 girls have been abducted in Nigeria, even threatened with being sold on the open market, all to keep them and others from going to school. It's a tragic tale that's been recurring for years.

Back in 1997 I saw firsthand the horror when I visited a school in Uganda where the teacher, Sister Rachele, showed me where 139 of her girls were abducted in the dark of night by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. Now Malala Yousafzai, the courageous Pakistani teenager, has raised her voice and her tweets on behalf of those missing girls in Nigeria. I spoke to her from Birmingham, her adopted home and where she goes to school. And I asked this remarkable young woman how she and others can find the courage to speak up and fight back.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI, EDUCATION ACTIVIST: When I heard about girls in Nigeria being abducted, I felt very sad. And I thought that my sisters are in prison now. And I thought that -- I thought -- I felt that as if I should speak up for them because I felt a responsibility. I believe that we are being sent to this all as a community and it's our responsibility that we take care of each other.

So girls in Nigeria are my sisters and it's my responsibility that I speak up for my sisters. So I felt that it -- I should speak up for them and I should raise my voice for their rights.


AMANPOUR: And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.