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Obama Administration Reportedly Sending Around 75 Additional American Military Personnel to Iraq; The Atrocities Of ISIS; Seeds Of Anger Sprout From Ferguson, Missouri; Shooting Of Unarmed Teen Sparks More Protests; The Comedian And Combat

Aired August 12, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The world lead now. Evil, wicked, soulless, these adjectives all being used to describe the crimes of the violent jihadists known as ISIS. The Obama administration is now reportedly considering sending as many as 75 additional American military personnel to Iraq to fight them.

And the president's commitment to airstrikes in the region remains open-ended. Meanwhile, Iraqi refugees are literally on the run at this hour flooding across the border into Syria.

Let's talk about the threat they're running from. ISIS has not just forcefully taken control of huge swathes of the region. They have also been bombing churches, beheading and crucifying their enemies, even according to some reports burying people alive.

Our Ivan Watson has been doing nothing short of heroic reporting on this humanitarian crisis.

Ivan, we have watched all day as these refugees have been flooding across the bridge behind you into Syria. Tell us, what is the threat that they're running from?


And they say, if they stay there, they will get killed. And one very frightening detail that some of them added was, they're saying this is not just that ISIS militant army that is threatening them. They say that once ISIS moved into their area -- and all the people that I met came from this Northwestern Iraqi town of Sinjar -- they said that, once ISIS came in, then their own Arab neighbors joined ranks with the ISIS militants and started to threaten them and put pressure on them and commit acts of violence against them, which is truly frightening a scenario to try to imagine right now.

And, of course, the scenes that we saw there were nothing short of almost biblical, where you had these exhausted people, families, trudging across this bridge, across this river into Iraqi Kurdistan. The route that they're taking in is an ad hoc humanitarian corridor. It has not been created by a First World army or by the United Nations or by some kind of international peacekeepers.

It's basically the fighters of a group in this region that's known often as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, that controls an enclave across the border in Syria. So these refugees are crossing the border from Iraq, from Sinjar, escaping ISIS, and then the PKK are helping move them back up Syrian territory, and then back to that bridge across the river to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan, this enclave in the north of Iraq that is ruled by Iraqi Kurds.

So it's an odyssey that these people are on, some of them traveling 15 hours on foot to reach the Kurdish safe haven in Syria. Jake, I spoke with one young man who says that he buried two of his infant brothers today on that long journey from Mount Sinjar to the Syrian border.

Those are the kind of harrowing stories I was hearing from people today -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, thank you so much. Please stay safe.

For more now on the atrocities in Iraq, let's bring in Ken Roth. He's the executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Mr. Roth, thanks for joining us.

Your group has people on the ground in Iraq. What is the worst that they're seeing ISIS do?

KEN ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Well, we're seeing all kinds of atrocities at this stage.

We saw a mass execution of Shia men in Tikrit a short time ago. Currently, there's been clearly a roundup of the Yazidi minority, the execution of men, the capturing of women to create brides for fighters. There is absolute terror among the Yazidi, which explains why these people are going into the mountains where the temperatures rise to 120 degrees. There's no food, water or shelter.

You have got to be awfully desperate to seek escape in an environment like that, but they feel that that's better than leaving their fates to ISIS.

TAPPER: Obviously, in this day and age of social media, it's difficult to discern what's real, what's not real, what's from which conflict.

There are a lot of images out there of children at gunpoint supposedly from either Syria or Iraq, definitely according to the people posting and blogging them ISIS. Have we confirmed, has your organization confirmed any of them?

ROTH: We're not in a position to confirm individual photos at this stage. We have a researcher in Irbil who has been able to interview Yazidi refugees as they come down from the mountains, others who basically just escaped directly to Irbil.

So we are able to document the fact that ISIS is committing atrocities against the Yazidi, also against the Chaldean Christians, and then, frankly, any minority whom it comes across, whether it's Kurds or even Shia, who are majority in Iraq as a whole, but are a minority in the northern areas that ISIS has taken control of.

TAPPER: And, obviously, ISIS not only having taken control of parts of Iraq, but also having taken control of parts of Syria.'

There is a photograph -- and I want to caution viewers. We're going to blur it out. But we are going to post it. It's a photograph allegedly taken from Northern Syria showing a 7-year-old boy holding what is said to be the head of a Syrian. Secretary of State John Kerry called the photograph disturbing.

What was your reaction? Just how bad are things in Syria from a human rights perspective?

ROTH: Well, they're awful. We're all focused on Iraq these days, because the U.S. government has various incentives to act there and feels that it can make more of a difference. But the Syrian people are in a disastrous situation, these days increasingly caught between the kind of brutality that you just illustrated with that photograph there by ISIS on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the indiscriminate barrel bombs being dropped by Assad's military forces on opposition-held cities, which are just wreaking awful destruction in heavily populated areas.

There is -- was much talk of the moderate armed opposition in Syria, but increasingly those moderates are losing out militarily to the extremists on the two sides, whether it's the Syrian government forces or ISIS.

TAPPER: Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch, thank you, and thank you for the work you do.

ROTH: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, police pushing back crowds with tear gas, as protesters continue to demand answers about the killing of an unarmed teenager. Now police say they will not release the name of the officer. Why not?

And later, a side of Robin Williams that not everyone knew, his tireless work giving back, especially to the troops -- coming up, some of his best moments out of the spotlight.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The national lead now, the shooting death of an unarmed teenager which has sowed seeds of anger and mistrust in the town of Ferguson, Missouri.

And as if to further illustrate just how tense things have gotten in that small community, police revealed today that they will no -- not reveal the name of the officer involved in that shooting, citing fears of retaliation.

The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown has sparked widespread outrage, not just in Ferguson, but nationwide.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: -- not reveal the name of the officer involved in that shooting citing fears of retaliation. The death of 18-year- old Michael Brown has sparked widespread outrage. Not just in Ferguson but nationwide, even President Obama is weighing in.

The White House released this statement just moments ago, which reads in part, quote, "I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country to remember this is young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that sounds."

For more now on the investigation, here is CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As police fire tear gas on protesters angry over the killing of an unarmed teen, the police chief announced Tuesday, the department is now delaying releasing the name of the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The value of releasing the name is far outweighed by the risk of harm to the officer and his family.

BROWN: The announcement fuelling even more tension between police and fired up residents who cite eyewitness reports that the unidentified officer shot and killed Brown while he was surrendering.

DORIAN JOHNSON, WITNESSED KILLING OF MICHAEL BROWN: Once my friend felt that shot, he put his hands in the air and started to get down, but the officer still approached with the his weapon drawn and he fired several more shots.

BROWN: Police tell a different story saying Brown physically assaulted the officer and tried to take his gun.

CHIEF JON BELMAR, ST. LOUIS COUNTY POLICE CHIEF: It is our understanding at this point in the investigation that within the police car, there was a struggle over the officer's weapon. There was at least one shot fired within the car.

BROWN: What exactly did happen is at the center of separate local and federal investigations. The FBI is working in tandem with other federal civil rights investigators to figure out whether the officer violated the law that states it's a crime for a law enforcement official to willfully deprive a person of his or her protected rights.

The first major step in the investigation getting to witnesses as fast as possible.

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They want to get to the witnesses before they hear other stories and tend to then coalesce the stories that they might tell.

BROWN: A source telling CNN federal officials are coordinating interviews with witnesses for official statements. The autopsy on Brown is complete, but the results have not yet been made public. Experts say those findings could be telling to investigators.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Why are you wearing the shirt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because my son don't have justice.

BROWN: Brown's grieving parents say all they want is a fair and thorough investigation for their son killed just two days before college.

LESLEY MCSPADDEN, MICHAEL BROWN'S MOTHER: Never did we think we would be planning a funeral. He was waiting on his first day of school. And they robbed us of that.

BROWN: Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you. So what, if anything, has the Ferguson Police Department told Michael Brown's family about the investigation? Let's bring in Anthony Gray, one of the attorneys for the Brown family.

Mr. Gray, has the identity of this officer been revealed to the family, as far as you know?


TAPPER: We know Michael's family and the community want transparency in this investigation. What do you say to those who say look, there's been violence in Ferguson in the last few days and therefore, police have an understandable fear they might be putting the officer's life in danger by releasing his name. What's your take on that argument?

GRAY: Well, I understand the argument itself. The argument has to be weighed against the public interests in disclosing the name. And once a fair and independent group of individuals conduct this balancing test, we feel that the scales should tilt in favor of disclosure. That's just our position with regard to that.

TAPPER: Several of Michael's friends were at the scene of the shooting. They say he was surrendering. They say his arms were up when he was shot. Do you happen to know if those friends have been interviewed by the police?

GRAY: We do not know if they've been interviewed. All of them have been interviewed. It's my understanding that some have come forward and have spoken with authorities. But we're not sure if all have come forward and spoken with the authorities.

So we have places a' call to the community to any and every one that has information, facts or evidence that can assist with this investigation. We urge you to come forward with that information.

TAPPER: And the Brown family has called for an end to the violence that has, that, we've seen in the past few days. How do the Browns want the community to respond to what's happened?

GRAY: Right now, they want the community to respond with support, they want the community to join with them in a call for a fair, independent and transparent investigation that's all they've asked for at this point.

What we have is just what I call a color blind curiosity about what took place on that day. There's a national interest now that in the Brown family's opinion and those that represent them like myself feel that there's no color, there's no sex.

There's no race that's attached to the interests and the curiosity that it seems that the nation has about what happened that day. That's all we are trying to get to at this point is a fair and independent investigation.

TAPPER: And Mr. Gray, President Obama weighed in a few minutes ago. I read some of the statement earlier, but he basically said that he urged everyone to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. What's your response, what's the Brown family response to President Obama weighing in?

GRAY: We wholeheartedly agree and adopt the words and the sentiments of the president. We think they were timely. We think they're appropriate for this particular situation. We hope that those that heard the statement would embrace what the president had to say.

We think that that is indicative of the sentiments of the family and we are calling for a nationwide and especially a local calm at this time. Rioting and looting is not what Michael would have wanted in this situation.

If you know his reputation, he was a gentle guy and gentle individuals don't engage in that type of violent behavior. So we condemn that and reject that and asking for the things I just mentioned earlier in your questioning.

TAPPER: Mr. Gray, in addition to his being gentle and his supposed to have gone to college yesterday, which is just heart breaking, what should the public know about Michael Brown?

GRAY: They should know those two things especially and they should know that he was an individual had a reputation for being compliant. He didn't have a reputation for being hostile towards law enforcement or anybody for that matter.

And they need to hear the story with that as the backdrop because it's so easy to adopt the perception that a person such as a young black African-American 18 years old would react in the way that it's been depicted that Mr. Brown has reacted. So easy to accept that narrative. We reject that.

TAPPER: Anthony Gray, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

When we come back, he was a tireless performer no matter what the audience of Robin Williams material. Troops overseas, he was just as funny as his standup. You'll hear some of it next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Back to our sad Pop Culture Lead, people everywhere are still struggling to register the loss of one of our brightest kindest souls. Robin Williams gone at 63. Williams leaves behind an indelible legacy.

His movie roles delighted us, often nonsensical, sometimes wonderfully preposterous performances. He could also frighten us giving skin crawling turns like the villain in "One Hour Photo."

But what never wavered throughout his long and winding career was his dedication to the men and women fighting for this country.


TAPPER (voice-over): Amidst the chaos of war, Robin Williams was a constant, a familiar face to help cheer the war weary.

ROBIN WILLIAMS: It's good to be in a room, having just gotten out of rehab, that's a great choice because I was violating my standards quicker than I could lower them.

TAPPER: Whether in Iraq or Afghanistan.

WILLIAMS: Thank you so much. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

TAPPER: Wherever the troops went, so did Williams.

WILLIAMS: Good morning, Virginia!

TAPPER: After his first visit to Afghanistan, Williams said that the troops were just happy that someone remembered them. And they were ready to laugh, he said. He described what it was like to Charlie Rose in December, 2002.

WILLIAMS: Hello, Mr. Williams. Nice to have you here. If you step over here, we'll begin your comedy routine. Make them laugh and move on, sir.

TAPPER: Williams did five more USO tours after that, traveling to 13 countries entertaining the troops. The USO says he performed for nearly 90,000 service members.

RACHEL TISCHLER, USO: He stepped up when things were really bad and said, I'm going to go over there and I'm going to tell the truth that they mean something to me and they're important to us.

TAPPER: Rachel Tischler from the USO accompanied Williams on one of those trips.

TISCHLER: He would take the time wherever to sit down and talk to them and then he would take everything he learned and put it into his show. They weren't just watching Robin Williams do jokes because they are in Kandahar. They are watching Robin Williams talk about what it was like to really be stationed in Kandahar.

TAPPER: Williams was careful to respect military tradition all while cracking jokes such as in this performance pausing his set while the bugler played his.

WILLIAMS: I'm not going to forget that. I've never had forge you.

TISCHLER: Time and time again, he realized that comedy was one of the best way to lift the spirits of troops.

TAPPER: Today, social media was flooded with some of those snap shots from soldiers such as former Staff Sergeant Matt Cousin. "You'll be missed Mr. Williams," Cousin wrote on Facebook, "Any man who goes to Afghanistan to make the troops happy is a great man."


TAPPER: A real loss. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.