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"Totally Unacceptable"; The World's Largest Crime Scene; Imagine a World
Aired July 31, 2014 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM CLANCY, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight too high a toll. The Pentagon calling on Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza. We'll
ask a top prosecutor whether Israel is violating international law.
And also ahead, Australia's foreign minister tells me 80 bodies could still be at that crash site of MH17. But she vows justice will be done.
JULIE BISHOP, AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It is unthinkable that we should allow those responsible for this to get away
CLANCY: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Jim Clancy, sitting Christiane Amanpour.
"Today the world stands disgraced." That is exactly how the head of the United Nations Relief Agency responded to yesterday's bombing of a Gaza
shelter, an attack that killed 20 refugees even though the agency shared its GPS coordinates with the Israeli army 17 times before the indicate.
U.N. officials on the ground were literally overcome by what they witnessed in Gaza.
Here's United Nations Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness in an interview from Gaza City.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS GUNNESS, UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY: The rights of Palestinians, even their children, are wholesale denied, and it's
CLANCY (voice-over): There were more incidents today of shells falling near U.N. shelters as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the
military to press on against Hamas' tunnel networks and rocket launchers.
"We are determined to complete this mission with our without a cease- fire," he said. But as the death toll climbs in Gaza, with ordinary citizens trapped in the crossfire, Israel is coming in for some harsh
criticism. The E.U. condemned the shelling of the refugee shelter as an unacceptable attack against innocent civilians. And the U.N.'s top human
rights official called it "a violation of international humanitarian law."
The question: do Israel's actions in Gaza constitute war crimes? In a moment we'll be joined by a top international lawyer, Sir Geoffrey Nice,
former lead prosecutor in the trial of ex-president Milosevic of Yugoslavia at the War Crimes tribunal in The Hague.
But first we want to bring in Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.
Barbara, what are people there in the Pentagon saying about Israel's predicament?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening, Jim. You know, the U.S. position has been that Palestinian civilian casualties
have just grown too high in this conflict but still today, earlier today, it was surprising here at the Pentagon to have one of the top spokesmen
tell reporters -- and I'm quoting -- "Israel needs to do more."
For the first time we are seeing the Pentagon step into this debate, into this controversy and this comes, of course, as the U.S. military, the
Defense Department and the State Department, are selling ammunition supplies to Israel as they regularly do, but at a very sensitive time
resupplying Israel with key ammunition stocks that it may well be using in this conflict.
So certainly the Pentagon feeling the heat of the world condemnation of these Palestinian civilian casualties.
CLANCY: Even the White House weighing in today, but we've got to note, Israel is battling a determined opponent in Hamas. Gaza is a
battlefield literally crowded with civilians. The question is whether some of the weapons being used by Israel raised the risk of civilian casualties.
STARR: Well, you know, what we see -- and our own CNN team led by Karl Penhaul has seen this every day in Gaza, you see the Israelis shifting
over the last several days to ground weapons. You see them using tanks, mortars, artillery. Some of it, tanks, perhaps, more precise. But
artillery, mortars, they're going to aim at a target. They're going to hit the target. But it does not tell you who's inside that target.
You may be aiming at an area that you believe Hamas is firing from. But there may also be school children there. It may be a hospital. It may
be a refugee site.
So this becomes very difficult. Hamas, it knows that it is operating from populated areas in Gaza. Israel knows that. But it's the people of
Gaza that are getting caught in this crossfire. And the question I think that is being raised everywhere now is there not some additional measure,
solution, some other military action that could be taken here to work against Hamas and still protect the civilians of Gaza? It's very difficult
to see a way ahead on this.
CLANCY: Doesn't Israel have the weaponry that provides that kind of pinpoint accuracy that it claims to be using?
STARR: Well, you know, the real pinpoint accuracy comes if you're going to go back to relying on airstrikes, because that type of munition,
bombs out of aircraft these days are guided to their target by a laser using GPS coordinates, very precise, very tactical on the battlefield.
The ground weapons really, again, precise because you're going to hit the target you aimed at. But you have to have the intelligence on the
ground. You have to have eyes on that target. Hamas is very expert at the sort of shoot-and-scoot tactic. They shoot and they move very quickly.
And while Israel is responding, they may have moved away.
The intelligence is very problematic. Israel being drawn deeper and deeper into that Gaza population where they are finding more of these
sites, where they say that there are Hamas rockets, Hamas weapons storage. But as you go deeper into Gaza, it becomes more populated of course and
this is complicating everything.
CLANCY: Barbara Starr reporting for us from the Pentagon, Barbara, as always, thank you.
CLANCY: Well, let's get more on the international laws that really surround war crimes. I'm joined from London by Sir Geoffrey Nice. He's a
top human rights lawyer. He's a former lead prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague.
Could Israel face war crimes charges? And who would bring them?
SIR GEOFFREY NICE, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: It certainly could. And it's now open or it's always been open for Palestine to bring them if it was
prepared to sign up as a states party of the International Criminal Court. Until now, although it's had the status where it probably could have signed
up in that way and had a case referred to the criminal court, it has declined to do so; maybe concerned about what would be the collateral
damage to it if it took that anti-Israeli step.
But I understand from what I've read today that it may now be possible that it will be prepared to become a states party of that court and if it
does that, two things follow. It will be able to refer this matter to the prosecutor of the court for her to consider. But it will expose itself to
an investigation as well.
CLANCY: All right. More on that in just a moment. I want to just take note of what Phillip Luther (ph) of Amnesty International had to say.
He said today, "If the stroke on this school was the result of Israeli artillery fire it would constitute an indiscriminate attack and a likely
But he also added, "Artillery should never be used against targets in crowded civilian areas."
Does that hold weight?
NICE: I'm not going to express an opinion on culpability. It would be inappropriate for me to do so.
Where you're engaged in combat in areas where there's a risk of collateral damage to civilian, questions of proportionality arise. This
question -- as well as questions of foreknowledge of the risk that you may be taking.
And certainly it is possible that if a combatant uses a school or a hospital to fire from, it can expose that school or hospital to attack.
But if that situation doesn't obtain -- and even if it does, if proportionality arguments arise, if it doesn't do the former and if
proportionality would bar the second alternative, then, yes, a war crime might be committed. But I'm not in a position, of course, without proper
investigation to say whether that's happened on this occasion.
CLANCY: Almost 1,400 Palestinians have died in all of this. Of them, the U.N. says 80 percent are civilians, 250 -- more than 250 are children,
6,000 people wounded. On the other side, Israel's lost 56 soldiers, three civilians in Israel and dozens of people wounded and it says an entire part
of the country is under the threat of terror, forced day and night to run to shelters, people fearing for their lives.
Does Israel have this right of self-defense?
RICE: It may have the right of self-defense, providing it takes appropriate steps to avoid excessive collateral damage. Remember, the
statutes that are offended by war crimes, the ICC statute in particular, where it deals with crimes against humanity and war crimes, they are -- and
war crimes being breaches of the Geneva Conventions, these statutes and conventions are there to protect civilians, to protect schools, to protect
religious sites. And therefore combatants engaged in battle which cause damage to those sites, and in particular damage -- not damage, death to
civilians -- are always taking a risk.
And the really good news, if there is any good news out of this, is that we seem to be edging towards the position where the international
citizen no longer accepts that what may be crimes in conflict go unaccounted for and are -- enjoy impunity on the part of big powers like
America or Israel or something like that.
And if the Palestine Authority signs up for the ICC and takes both sides of this conflict itself and Israel to judicial intervention, we may
be edging further towards the position the world citizen wants to see.
CLANCY: You know, I want to follow that up just a little bit because it's so important. Really the whole purpose of this international
humanitarian law is to try to prevent casualties by putting world powers on notice and the question always comes up that you just raised.
Impunity: people simply aren't held accountable.
RICE: Well, some are and some aren't. Until now, there've been a great block of countries, America, Russia, China and other big countries,
but also Israel, who are not signed up to the International Criminal Court and who it has seemed are immune from pursuit.
In fact, things have been changing. For example, the attempt by the Mavi Marmara, sailing out of the Comoros flag to break the blockade on Gaza
four years ago has led to an approach by Comoros which is a states party of the court and approached by them to the prosecutor. And the prosecutor's
having to consider that application to open an investigation which would concern Israel.
If the authority does the same thing now, that will be a second opportunity to explore an Israel-related conflict. But this time it would
be an opportunity to look at both sides, which must be the right thing to do.
CLANCY: Yes, exactly, because there are people that note, as Hamas fires these missiles, these rockets unguided into civilian areas of Israel,
these do constitute war crimes. And if the Palestinians, as you know, go after Israel, they have to turn themselves in as well.
RICE: And -- absolutely. And again, I express no view obviously on the firing of rockets from the Palestinian side. But there's also one
other really interesting issue that's going to emerge and your previous contributor touched on it.
If there were to be an investigation into this situation involving Israel, the investigation could extend to those who knowingly supply it
with weapons if by chance they would know of the risks of war crimes being committed by the use of those weapons.
And this is another development which I suspect the world citizen who wants to see accountability would broadly welcome although every citizen,
like I'm sure you and me regards the present circumstances criminal or not as one appalling to behold and where our principal concern should be with
CLANCY: Thank you very much, Sir Geoffrey Nice, I appreciate your legal view. I understand your caution. It's a delicate situation right
now. But the world is looking on and people are all asking, isn't there something we can do? Thank you.
These words by the U.N. secretary-general, "Nothing, nothing justifies such horror," could also apply to the horror on the ground in Ukraine,
where 80 bodies may still remain at this crash site of Flight 17. With pro-Russian separatists at times hindering investigators, is the crime that
brought down the plane compounded by a cover-up engineered in Moscow? Julie Bishop, Australia's foreign minister in Kiev -- and she's looking for
answers -- she joins us when we come back.
CLANCY: Welcome back to the program. I'm Jim Clancy, in tonight for Christiane Amanpour.
Dutch and Australian experts finally, finally reach the crash site of Malaysian Flight 17 today, a full two weeks after the plane was blown from
the sky over Eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian rebels and fierce fighting blocked the teams from accessing the site earlier.
The group is determined to recover the rest of the victims' bodies still out there, comb the debris field for clues and try to establish
evidence of what happened and why. Australia lost 38 people aboard that flight among a total of 298 souls. Its top diplomat flew to Ukraine to
facilitate the investigation process. She joined me earlier from Kiev.
CLANCY: Julie Bishop, foreign minister of Australia, welcome to the program.
JULIE BISHOP, AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you.
CLANCY: Upon arrival, the investigators were said to have paused for a moment of silence to mark two full weeks since Flight MH17 just came out
of the skies above Eastern Ukraine.
What is important for all of us to remember as this investigation truly gets underway?
BISHOP: It is unthinkable that we should allow those responsible for this to get away with it. That's why Australia, we lost 38 residents.
And the Netherlands, 194 Dutch were killed, absolutely determined to not only retrieve the bodies and the remains and bring them home to their
loved ones, but also to carry out a thorough, independent, impartial investigation to find those culpable and to hold them to account.
CLANCY: One of the priorities is certainly to recover, as you said, all of the bodies that are there at that crash scene.
Do we even know how many are still missing?
BISHOP: Jim, advanced party was able to get onto the site today after four days of trying. We took an alternative route and they were on there
for a couple of hours. I understand they're now on their way home.
We know how many body bags were transferred from Kharkiv to the Netherlands. But we don't know how many bodies or remains are still on the
site. There have been some international forensic experts who have actually been on the site, who have indicated to me that it could be as
many as 80.
But we won't know until our investigative teams are on the site and combing the crash site for remains. And that's the grisly and sobering
task that they must undertake from now on.
CLANCY: Obviously the greatest risk here is the ongoing fighting in the area. Ukraine officials there in Kiev have offered up a one-day cease-
Is that even close to enough?
BISHOP: Oh, no, of course not. We need to be on the site for probably weeks. We don't want to be on there for a minute longer than we
have to be. But there is a painstaking task ahead of us.
What we need guaranteed is this humanitarian corridor that we access today and a cease-fire to enable our teams to get on the site and do their
The Ukrainian government has worked untiringly over the last couple of days with the Dutch and Australian teams to first work out a safe access
route. Mind you, this goes from Ukrainian territory into what they call no man's land, and then into separatist held territory.
So our team had to negotiate checkpoints all along this route. We'll need to do that day by day. It's a very dangerous situation. There's a
full-scale military conflict going on with very sophisticated weapons by both sides. We're talking missiles and rockets and the like.
So they'll need to negotiate that path every day. So we're not taking unnecessary risks. But we've got to remember, this is a war zone.
CLANCY: Well, you are allowed. Your police could bring arms to the site. The Ukrainians have green lighted that. But you won't do so.
BISHOP: The agreement that was ratified by the Ukraine Rada today was the operating agreement, if you like, the conditions upon which we are able
to work in Ukraine in these circumstances.
It also includes a provision about bringing in armed personnel. But we don't believe that that will be necessary -- in fact, we will not be
taking arms onto the site because this is a police-led humanitarian mission.
And we want our investigators and our experts to get on with the job of scouring the site for remains and pieces of the wreckage. But our main
priority is --
CLANCY: But Madam Foreign Minister, it is still -- it is still a war zone. You still have to ensure the security of your own people.
BISHOP: You're absolutely right, Jim, and we're putting our people in the hands of the Ukraine military for part of the trip, the separatists
that have been negotiating with the OSCE for the rest of the trip and on the site.
But we stress this is a humanitarian mission. Our police are unarmed. That was a condition of being allowed to get onto the crash site. And our
experts here have weighed the risks. They --
CLANCY: We set a -- that was a condition of the rebels?
BISHOP: Yes, it was.
CLANCY: Do you trust them?
Have you talked with them?
Do you believe that they will ultimately cooperate?
BISHOP: We're not dealing directly with the separatists. We do that via the OSCE. They've been on the ground for months. They've had 50
unarmed monitors on the ground since March. And so we are relying on them. They've developed relationships with these separatist groups. And there
are a number of them. There's not just one group. They're all clearly Russian-backed.
CLANCY: Now your prime minister, Tony Abbott, has said of the Russian relationship that "our focus is not on sanctions for the moment."
I'm just wondering will sanctions make the job more difficult?
If the West goes ahead with more sanctions against Moscow, your task, the task of finding out what happened to Flight 17 becomes, perhaps,
BISHOP: We imposed sanctions earlier in the year when the U.S. and Europeans imposed sanctions. But the current round of sanctions, which are
being promoted by the European Union, as -- is a matter that we're not involving ourselves with at this stage.
And so we can't be drawn into the geopolitical situation at present until we complete our humanitarian mission. And that's the point our prime
minister has been making.
He's not entering into the rights of wrong -- rights and wrongs of it at this point. What he's trying to do is retrieve the bodies of the 38
Australian residents that were killed on that flight. We owe it to the families. And we won't rest until we've got their bodies home.
Then we can consider the consequences of the investigation and the results of the investigation once they're known.
CLANCY: Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, I want to thank you very much for being with us.
BISHOP: Thank you.
CLANCY: Now after a short break, signs of life in Gaza. In fact, four miraculous new lives. Imagine what lies ahead for them and for
children like them everywhere, that's when we come back.
CLANCY: A final thought tonight, amid the death and destruction in Gaza, life goes on. In fact, four miraculous lives go on. Despite the
threat of falling bombs and rockets, these quadruplets were delivered last night at Gaza City's largest hospital, Al Shifa. That's Dr. Bassel
Abuwarda, standing proudly beside the newborns.
Now imagine the world these children are going to be growing up in. And not just those four, but a whole generation in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine,
Syria, Iraq and all the scarred and scary places on our planet. We'll leave you with their unforgettable faces and their uncertain futures.
Thank you for watching. Goodbye from CNN Center.