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Fighting Keeps Away MH17 Investigators; Israelis Criticize Kerry Over Proposal; What the Black Boxes Are Telling Us

Aired July 28, 2014 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Israel has reached only a fraction of these Palestinian tunnels, says this is Hamas spokesman in this edited Internet message. He says the thousands who "dug these tunnels with their fingernails will dig many more, God willing."

These dusty cylinders were originally used to smuggle items into Gaza from Egypt during crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockades of Gaza -- food, weapons, livestock, chemicals, electricity, all of it came through the elaborate network, yet, another sign of Palestinian desperation.

These same kind of tunnels from Egypt into Gaza have quite literally been lifelines for Palestinians, but now they are also being used as the opposite death lines, ways to kill Israelis.

YISAL PALMOR, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY: If it had only been for the purpose of smuggling cigarettes, it would not have been good, of course, but we know that Hamas has used them on various occasions and has planned on using them again for major terror attacks.

TAPPER: Palestinians say Israel's tunnel focus is just a front for wider destruction.

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: They will re-occupy Gaza. Now in the West Bank, there are (inaudible).

TAPPER: So as explosions continue to ring out above them, the tunnels remain an artery of war. Still believing life into this ferocious battle.


TAPPER: We should note at least one Palestinian human rights group has objected to the use of Palestinian children in building these tunnels after several children reportedly died during their construction.

Coming up, victims' families sick of waiting for information decide to go get it on their own, but will their travels make it harder on investigators. Plus, he's been working around the clock to get both sides to agree to end the violence in the Middle East, but my guest ahead thinks maybe Secretary of State John Kerry is trying a little too hard to do things his way.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. It has been, believe it or not, 11 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky over Eastern Ukraine. The crash site has been called the biggest crime scene in the world, dozens of square miles. Now, I know that's huge and maybe I've been conditioned by way too many "Law & Order" reruns.

But shouldn't this crime scene be secured by now or at the very least not controlled by the leading suspects? Pro-Russian separatists? International investigators turned away from the crime scene for a second day today after hearing explosions in the area and getting warnings of heavy fighting there.

Joining me now from Ukraine is the Michael Bociurkiw, the spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The group monitoring the crash scene. Michael, thanks so much for joining us. For the second day in a row, you tried going to the crash site. What happened?

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, OSCE SPOKESMAN: Hi, Jake. Thank you for having us. We made an early attempt this morning. We had our biggest contingent yet of observers and experts, 12 of our own people. In addition to that, we had over 50 experts from the Netherlands and from Australia.

We were headed out there and we got about two-thirds of the way and we were still on the rebel side of the frontline and then, you know, explosions started to happen, fighting. We held position for about 45 minutes and then a decision was taken with our Australian, Dutch friends to return to Donetsk.

And I can tell you it was such a pity because everyone was, as you might expect, really geared up to get out there and do the work. Jake, the top priority, of course, today was the continuing the recovery of human remains. We know they're there. We've seen them with our own eyes.

The sad thing today is that the Dutch were already getting ready to retrieve those remains and care for them the way they're supposed to be, but that did not happen. We are going to make another attempt tomorrow.

TAPPER: It is nothing short of outrageous, 11 days later, bodies still rotting on the scene. What is being done to secure your visit tomorrow?

BOCIURKIW: Well, the word unconscionable is what I used earlier at our press conference. A lot has happened today actually our chief monitor, Ambassador Apercan, has held high level meetings with the Ukrainian side, of course, they are a party to this, and then also with the high officials from the Dutch and Australian side.

As I speak, a few floors below us right now talks are being held with the rebel side. Again to hone that message is that we need secure and timely access to the site. Nobody's interest that this mission not take place. As we said, those remains, those bodies have been lying out there for over a week now.

We haven't been to the site since Friday. As you might expect, it's vulnerable to manmade and natural factors such as weather. Jake, today in fact, one of the other priorities was to scour an area that hasn't been searched before. We know debris is there and we've seen it through long distance observation. We weren't able to do that today.

TAPPER: You said it's a nobody's interest and you're a diplomat so I will forgive you for not saying that it may in fact be the interests of the guilty party to prevent investigators from getting there. If you want to respond to that, you can. If you don't, let me ask another question, which is after 11 days, is it even relevant to have the site secured at this point? Is it not probable that all of the evidence has gone?

BOCIURKIW: There's a lot of evidence there. There's no doubt about it. We've become intimately familiar with the site, the special monitoring mission to Ukraine, the OSCE. We've been there so many days. We've documented a lot of it. Indeed, there have been examples of fuselage that has been hacked into, for example, the cockpit, which really tragically slammed into the ground and pancaked. That's been hacked into.

Of course, part of that could have been for recovery of human remains, but the fact is that it was really an invasive type of cutting into that piece of fuselage. A lot of it is there. We know that for a fact. That's what these investigators want to look at. They want to have a close look at it.

And in fact, Jake, a few days ago, the Malaysians, who are with us took quite an interest in pieces of fuselage that had pockmarks on it, if I can put it that way that were very different from other pieces from fuselage. So things like that will be of great interest to the investigators here.

TAPPER: Michael Bociurkiw, best of luck and we'll talk to you soon I hope about your successful day on that field. Thank you again.

So if investigators cannot get in and the suspects have been free for 11 days to do who knows what to the evidence, how can anyone build a case against the guilty party? And if the suspects are eventually found, who would even bring them to justice?

Let's bring in CNN national security analyst, Bob Baer, he is also a former CIA operative. Bob, good to see you as always. The U.N. says this could possibly constitute a war crime downing this plane. What does that mean in terms of practicality? Does it mean the culprits could be theoretically brought before The Hague? BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, it's clearly a war crime, this plane was shot down whether by accident or on purpose. I think they've got the elements of a crime there. The problem is, of course, is end finding the suspects. You're not going to get the help of the local police. That's what you really need.

I work for the special tribunal in Lebanon for a couple years and we had the help of the Lebanese police to put the evidence together, produce some witnesses. That's how the crime was taken to a court and we got indictments. But the indictees never showed up. They're still at large. And we have the same problem in the Ukraine.

If in fact this was a Russian-backed group, they're probably almost definitely across the border. But I would want to talk if I were on the ground to witnesses, the police and rest of it and the chances of getting that cooperation to tell us who fired that missile and why I think are close to zero.

TAPPER: Technically, the land that this missile was fired from, the surface-to-air missile was probably Ukraine. Does that mean that Ukraine just according to international law, recent is in charge of tracking down the people who did this?

BAER: Jake, exactly. They should be, but it's a civil war in which makes it even more problematic because they're party to this civil war and they have a reason to frame, if you like, if that's what happened, the Russian rebels or frame Russia itself. So their evidence is not exactly reliable and these so-called intercepts, I don't think they're admissible in a court of law.

I mean, who was talking in these intercepts? What were the circumstances? And actually using that as evidence, I think, is impossible. So to get back to your question, I don't think we're going to get good answers on this. Most likely it was pro-Russian rebels that had this piece of equipment.

They didn't know how to operate it. They couldn't work the radar. They shot this plane down and the Russians are implicated in this attack, but we're never going to get their cooperation.

TAPPER: The Ukrainian government and to a degree other allied governments have pointed the finger not only at pro-Russian separatists but Russia itself. If a link could be conclusively proven between whoever carried out the shooting and the Russian government, what would the possible repercussions be?

BAER: Well, I think the only thing you can do against the Russians is serious sanctions against their energy exports to Europe, but the Europeans are not going to go along with that, not now. I don't know what circumstances they'd change their minds.

I think with passage of time this is going to be forgotten. It's going to be lost in the diplomatic exchanges and the rest of it. But I just don't foresee we're going to get a clear answer on this or get any arrests.

TAPPER: Do you think that too much time has passed in order to catch whoever did this?

BAER: I think the Russians had their chance after this plane went down to say, we're sorry. We're sending weapons across. We want to open up an investigation, let in the investigators through Russia. They didn't. They continue to pursue the civil war. That's their only interest and they're just hoping with time, we all forget about this.

TAPPER: Bob Baer, as always, thank you so much. Coming up next, the secret deal revealed for the first time. John Kerry's plan for a cease-fire in Gaza. Was it a betrayal of our closest ally in the Middle East as some say?

Plus, inside the black boxes, Ukrainian officials leaking critical information about what happened to Flight 17 and authorities in the Netherlands, they are not too happy about it. They wanted that data kept under wraps. We'll tell you why.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. As explosions go off in Gaza and in Israel, the likelihood of an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas looks rather dim. It's unclear what terms either side would even agree to. Secretary of State John Kerry's framework for a cease-fire was unanimously rejected by the Israeli cabinet and ripped by critics.

One Israeli newspaper called it a betrayal, but back here in the United States, administration officials are going all-in to defend Kerry including national security adviser, Dr. Susan Rice just minutes ago.


SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We know these misleading reports in turn raise concerns here at home in America. The reality is that John Kerry on behalf of the United States has been working every step of the way with Israel in support of our shared interests.


TAPPER: Barack Ravid, a reporter with the Israeli newspaper obtained a draft of the plan. It called for a 7-day humanitarian cease-fire and discussions of issues that the Israelis felt favored Hamas such as working on ways to open the border crossings in Gaza.

I want to bring in Barack Ravid. He is the diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli newspaper "Haaretz." Barack, good to see you. There's been a lot of criticism towards Secretary of State John Kerry about this possible draft, the cease-fire proposal that the Israeli cabinet rejected. I'm assuming that you feel it's completely dead. Why?

BARACK RAVID, ISRAELI DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, "HAARETZ": Well, you know, first, you know, I want to the start by saying that you know, you have to admire John Kerry and I'm not being cynical here, OK. John Kerry is a true friend of Israel. He's doing 100 percent effort, 100 percent motivation. The guy is really trying.

The problem is that there's a certain point when you try something, you are just trying too much. And with John Kerry, we see it in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. You know, John Kerry thinks sometimes that the only reason that something hasn't happened until right now is because John Kerry still hasn't dealt with it.

And you know, so he came in to this crisis you know, basically came into the Israeli-Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire that was also coordinated with the Palestinians. And told everybody you know what? Hold on. I got a new idea and brought in the Qataris and the Turks, which basically complicated the whole thing.

And I think that you know, again, his intentions were good but you know, the road to hell is filled with good intentions. I think that unfortunately, this is what we saw in the last few days. And you know, what I'm wondering, you know, John Kerry again on this issue is working almost alone. He's a lone ranger.

You have Washington is full with experts, State Department, thousands of people. You have the number one expert on Egypt is the head of the near east affairs in the State Department. She was sitting in the dugout not involved in this. You have the number one expert on Hamas in the National Security Council in the White House, Rob Mali.

He was not even in the dugout. He was in the bleachers out of the loop. And John Kerry was doing everything alone with one or two advisors. So one must wonder why is this process, you know, so -- why is this process being dealt with in such a wrong way?

TAPPER: Barack Ravid with "Haaretz," thank you so much.

When we come back, critical information leaked about Flight 17's last few seconds in the air. The knowledge is now public. Dutch authorities are furious. Why they think it could hurt the investigation. That's coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Debris is still scattered for miles and many bodies still lag where they landed on that tragic day, 11 days ago. But the black boxes from Flight 17, well, they're now in the hands of British investigators, and while some of the bodies and belongings of victims of Flight 17 have been looted, there is no evidence that pro-Russia separatists tampered with the black boxes.

Though they still may not help answer the two the most pressing questions, who shot down the plane and why did they do it. Pamela Brown has more on this part of the story -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're still searching for concrete answers, Jake. More setbacks today as investigators heading to that crash site were forced to turn back around. This as Ukrainian authorities shed new light on what may have brought flight MH-17 down based on information gleaned from the plane's black boxes.


BROWN (voice-over): The black boxes from Malaysia Flight 17 show the passenger jet suffered a massive explosive decompression. Ukrainian officials announced today. The spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council saying in a press conference experts of commission on investigation of causes of Boeing 777 crash informed us.

That the data from flight recorders shows the plane was destroyed by shrapnel coming from a rocket blast. Dutch authorities leading the investigation refused to confirm that information.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: The Ukrainians should not use the investigation as a further hammer to advance their political agenda. The Ukrainian foreign minister was wrong to do this. The Dutch were quite right to be concerned.

BROWN: The Dutch safety board is planning to release its initial findings from the black boxes Friday.

GOELZ: It will not be able to identify who fired the missile and it may not be able to identify where the missile came from. It can only say this plane tragically was destroyed at altitude suddenly.


BROWN: And investigates say they will try to make it back to that crash site again tomorrow. Meantime, Malaysia has secured an agreement we've learned with the Ukrainian separatists to allow a group of international police personnel to provide protection for investigators.

And also tomorrow, Jake, the International Civil Aviation Organization, International Airlines and others will be gathering to talk about the risks of flying over war zones. And what changes need to be made as a result of what we have seen there and what happened in Ukraine.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about these reports I keep hearing of Malaysia Airlines thinking of trying to rebrand after these two horrific disasters.

BROWN: There was a lot of talk after this crash and the missing plane Flight 370 whether or not Malaysia Airlines was going to rebrand. We have learned actually from "The Telegraph," a British newspaper that they are talking about rebranding and even changing the name of the airline.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is live from Jerusalem in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.