PBS NewsHour

EU calls crisis meeting over growing migrant deaths at sea


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GWEN IFILL: Europe’s attention was fixed today on images of desperate refugees dying on rickety boats. A jam-packed vessel out of Libya went down Sunday, taking nearly all of its human cargo to the bottom of the sea.

We have two reports from Independent Television News, beginning with Matt Frei in Catania, Italy.

MATT FREI: These are all that’s left of the worst shipping disaster to date of the worst year so far for Mediterranean migration.

But the survivors are outnumbered by the body bags and the body bags are outnumbered by the hundreds whose bodies will never be recovered from the bottom of the sea. The ghostly nocturnal images of the actual rescue show the Italian Coast Guard dinghies looking for more survivors in vain.

As many as 900 may have drowned here. And together with last week’s casualties, that means that more souls have been lost in seven days in the calm waters of the Med than when the Titanic sank. Off roads, in the Greek corner of the Mediterranean, this was today, when a ship of Syrian and East African refugees disintegrated just a few hundred meters offshore. Here, only three people drowned, but you can sense the panic of the others. It looks as if they can’t swim.

This is just one small desperate episode in an historic drama. Whether Greece or Italy, geography dictates that the southern shores of Europe have become a magnet for the huddled masses of an unstable world, from Libya to West Africa. What makes it worse is that Libya, the favorite point of departure, is also in a state of civil war.

When this ship went down off the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013, almost 400 people drowned. It triggered Italy’s Mare Nostrum, a mass rescue operation that ended up saving 130,000 lives last year.

But Italy didn’t warning to bear the burden alone, and in the end, the European Union decided to replace Mare Nostrum with a much smaller rescue mission. The policy was, if we show the migrants that we won’t rush to their rescue, they won’t rush to the boats. But it didn’t work. They keep coming in ever greater numbers.

GWEN IFILL: So far this year, at least 1,500 migrants have died trying to make that crossing. That’s 15 times more than the total for all of last year.

ITN’s Rageh Omaar picks up the story in Luxembourg, where European foreign ministers met today.

RAGEH OMAAR: It’s the desperate and often fatal plight of would-be migrants like these Syrians fleeing civil war that has jolted the E.U. to try to take action. The European Commission has presented member governments with a 10-point plan today aimed at doubling the financing and number of ships available to help overcrowd vessels like these.

THERESA MAY, U.K. Home Secretary: We have looked at how we can deal with these tragic events that have taken place. Obviously, everybody is very concerned about the horrific loss of life that we have seen in the Mediterranean, but what was very clear today and what was agreed today among the ministers is that there’s no quick fix on this issue.

RAGEH OMAAR: It’s a reflection of the rising political concern within Europe of the scale of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean that what should have been routine E.U. talks in Luxembourg have turned into a crisis conference to try to address this issue.

The question now is how to get the 28 member countries to act as one, especially when the issue of migration is such a polarizing and heated domestic political issue for European governments.

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How can Europe deter desperate migrants?

A child is carried into bus as migrants arrive via boat at the Sicilian harbor of Pozzallo

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GWEN IFILL: And joining me now for more on the deadly journeys that thousands are taking, and the European community’s response, is Daryl Grisgraber, senior advocate at Refugees International for the Middle East and Africa.

Thank you for joining us.

It seems there are two big questions here. Why do the migrants come, and what do you do about them once they get on their way?  Let’s start with the first part. Why are they coming?

DARYL GRISGRABER, Refugees International: There are a number of reasons that people leave their countries of origin, of course, conflict, poverty, persecution.

So, in a lot of Africa and particularly in the Middle East, you will find people who are fleeing these particular issues. Many of them end up on the north coast of Africa and do migration by sea when land routes are not as easily available to them. What to do about them is a much more complicated issue.

GWEN IFILL: I want to go back a little bit about who these people are.


GWEN IFILL: Because they’re not Libyans necessarily, and they’re not from any one place.

DARYL GRISGRABER: No, not at all.

We have seen Syrians making their way from Egypt into Libya to try to make the sea crossing. They’re people coming from the Horn of Africa fleeing human rights violations who end up there as well, people from sub-Saharan Africa. People are coming from anywhere that they can find a migration route that is open. And often when they end up on the north coast of Africa, they are getting on these boats.

GWEN IFILL: Yes. And is it fair to say that we are seeing this increase in numbers, this stunning increase in numbers because of the weather?  Because of what?

DARYL GRISGRABER: Well, the weather is — this is considered the sailing season right now, so the weather is a little bit calmer, the waters are slightly easier to deal with.

But I think what we’re looking at is what’s happening in the countries that people are fleeing from. Human rights violations are a daily occurrence for many people in many places, again, in this part of the world. Conflict in Syria, for example, is driving people out. And there are some Libyans joining as well. Libya is kind of in chaos right now.

So people are coming from all over, but they’re are all fleeing situations that are making them desperate. And they feel like they need to be elsewhere.

GWEN IFILL: What about the ones who land, the ones who don’t drown on route?  Is it possible — where do they end up, where do they end go?

DARYL GRISGRABER: It depends where they are.

Many of them end up in detention. And there are definitely efforts by European countries to send them back. A lot of them have dreams of moving on further to join family members, often in Scandinavia, for example, or in Western Europe. A lot of them are not getting there, and many of them languish in, for example, transit centers along the coast of the European countries because they’re not allowed in.

GWEN IFILL: Well, then let’s talk about the second hard part, as you identified, what do you do about it. Today, we saw the meeting among the European Union countries in which they’re beginning to make common cause?

DARYL GRISGRABER: There is — yes, there’s a move toward that.

And I think it will be a little bit of a question how quickly that can be done and how thorough the response can be. The common cause, unfortunately, might not focus as much on humanitarian and lifesaving activities, as it does on deterrence at the border and creating a secure area. So — sorry. Go ahead.

GWEN IFILL: No, I was going to ask you to explain — expand on that a little bit. When you say deterrence, what do you mean?  Here, we talk about building fences. What are they talking about?

DARYL GRISGRABER: Yes, well, in many ways, it’s the same thing, not building a fence, but, for example, not making people think that if they get on a boat that is unsafe and it starts to sink, that they are going to be rescued by someone in those European countries, for example.

Search and rescue missions were very much at the heart of the operation that was going on in the Mediterranean for a lot of last year and some of 2013. The new operation that has taken it over and it’s not as comprehensive geographically and certainly doesn’t have the same amount of funding is much more about deterrence and keeping people away from the borders, trying to avoid having people arrive in the first place.

GWEN IFILL: Trying to stop people from getting on the boats or getting off the boats?

DARYL GRISGRABER: Getting off the boats mostly.

But it would be useful in some ways to create situations where people feel like they don’t need to get on the boats as well.

GWEN IFILL: And that’s the more complicated part of this.

DARYL GRISGRABER: It certainly is, yes.

GWEN IFILL: Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International, thank you very much.


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UN struggles to combat hunger in world’s worst combat zones


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JUDY WOODRUFF: The nation of South Sudan is barely 4 years old, and for much of that time, the fledgling country has been at war with itself, a conflict that’s displaced more than two million South Sudanese in just the last 16 months.

It’s estimated that 50,000 people have died in the fighting. Among the living, more than 2.5 million need food assistance. That number could be four million by year’s end.

Ertharin Cousin is executive director of the World Food Program. That’s the U.N. agency that is charged with helping the South Sudanese in need. The WFP is also facing four other major crises elsewhere in Africa and in the Middle East.

Ertharin Cousin was just in South Sudan late last month, and she joins me here tonight.

It’s good to have you on the program again.

ERTHARIN COUSIN, Executive Director, World Food Program: Yes, thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so you were just there weeks ago and you were saying it’s gotten worse since then.

ERTHARIN COUSIN: Yes, it has gotten worse.

I was in Juba and Ganyiel, where, when I went to visit Ganyiel, which is an island surrounded by swampland, I had the opportunity to talk to women. One mother told me she had walked for weeks and months in order to reach a place where there was safety and where there was food, where she had nothing to do but — the only thing she could do was feed her children water lilies until she could get to a place where we were providing them with food.

She came from the Upper Nile region, because Ganyiel isn’t — is — and she was in the northern part of Upper Nile and I was in lower part of Upper Nile. The northern part of Upper Nile, where Malakal is located, has gotten worse. And in fact two counties in the Upper Nile region, we have been forced to suspend activities because three of our staff were kidnapped within the last 10 days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How does the — what can the World Food Program do in a situation like that, where the fighting, the civil war elements are just getting more complicated?

ERTHARIN COUSIN: Well, what it requires is we are agile with the other members of the humanitarian country team. We go in, we provide the assistance, we move out. But the challenge is when we can’t go in at all, and that’s what we’re finding now as the conflict becomes ever more difficult and you’re breaking down into more of tribal conflicts with militias that — where there’s very little command and control, as you would think about in a traditional conflict situation.

It’s much more about local fighting parties. And so it’s very difficult for us to have anyone even to talk to about our staff who have been kidnapped.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you do in a situation like that?  What is it that the World Food Program and other agencies like yours, what do you need at a time like this?

ERTHARIN COUSIN: So, what we need to do first and foremost is not forget the victims of this, the women, the children who need our assistance.

We are $250 million short from what we need to provide the support that is required for the 2.5 million people who we know are now in desperate need of food assistance between now and the end of the year, particularly nutritional assistance for children.

And we also need to ensure that the entire global community, not just the agencies, let their voices be known that humanitarians must be provided with the access that is necessary to provide assistance. And, finally, what we need to particularly do in South Sudan is we’re looking to expand our school feeding program because we want to ensure that particularly boys, and we want to target about 160,000 additional children for school feeding, so that those boys can hear and see a different way out, a different narrative than the one that their fathers saw who for decades fought for their own freedom.

And now those same boys are seeing that conflict seems to be the only answer. Keeping them in school would provide a different set of outcomes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The World Food Program has frequently put out the word that it needs more money. Your shop, your office has done that. What’s the response to that and who is it who is falling back in their pledges to the World Food Program?

ERTHARIN COUSIN: Well, the reality of it is that WFP, the World Food Program, is 100 percent voluntarily funded and the majority of that today is being provided by governments.

And governments like the United States are extremely generous in providing us with assistance. The challenge is that because you have Syria Iraq, South Sudan, now Yemen, Ebola, Central African Republic, the needs are so large that it requires that we broaden the number of donors who are supporting our organizations and seek additional support, particularly from private sector individuals.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned Syria and Iraq. Let me quickly ask you about that.

Syria, this is a war that has gone on, a civil war, for years, so many displaced Syrians both inside and outside the country. How is the World Food Program getting help to them?

ERTHARIN COUSIN: Well, we are providing support inside Syria to approximately 4.2 million people on an every-month basis. And we’re providing support in both the opposition-held areas, as well as the government-held areas.

But there are still besieged areas where we’re challenged in reaching those parties. Outside Syria, we are continuing to support approximately 1.7 million people. But, unfortunately, because this has — the Syrian conflict has gone on for so long, it has required us to reduce the size of our benefit inside Syria, which means that the basket of food that we’re providing is 30 percent smaller today than it was this same time last year, and the support that we’re providing financially, because outside Syria it’s not about the availability of food; it’s access to food.

So we provide a conditional cash voucher that allows the refugee to purchase food. But the challenge is that we have been forced now to cut that voucher by about 15 percent.


ERTHARIN COUSIN: Because of lack of funding.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, then let me quickly ask you about Iraq, next door. A number of the Syrians have gone into Iraq, Iraq of course having its own crisis which grows worse by the day with the Islamic State group.

How is the World Food Program dealing — are you able to keep up with the situation there?

ERTHARIN COUSIN: Well, inside Iraq, we are supporting about 1.5 million internally displaced parties as a result of the ongoing conflict in Iraq.

And last year, Saudi Arabia, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided a $500 million contribution to the entire international community, which part of that supported WFP for the entire year. Unfortunately, that pot has run dry, and we’re now in a situation where we are significantly underfunded in Iraq at a time when we just saw 90,000 people leave Ramadi with the recent bombing campaigns in Anbar province.

We are trying to reach approximately 60,000 of those 90,000 with just the basic food needs to support their ability to feed themselves while they run, while they move, while they try to find safety.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, individuals who are watching, is there anything they can do?

ERTHARIN COUSIN: Go to, join us, help us, and contribute, provide your support, provide your voice to your governments to ensure that they continue to provide the support that is necessary, so people don’t forget the victims of the crisis around the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s a very difficult story, set of stories to listen to.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Program, thank you.

ERTHARIN COUSIN: Thank you so much.

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Convicted former CIA contractor speaks out about prisoner interrogation

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GWEN IFILL: The Senate investigated the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects for five years. The resulting report released last December detailed brutality, dishonesty and at times arbitrary violence conducted by the agency.

In spite of those findings, only one CIA contractor, an interrogator serving in Afghanistan, has been convicted. Now out of jail, he spoke for the first time in a short film produced by Retro Report , a nonprofit news organization partnered with The New York Times.

NARRATOR: David Passaro is a free man today, and holds the distinction of being the only person working for the CIA ever to be convicted of abusing a prisoner in the war on terror.

DAVID A. PASSARO, Former CIA Contractor: Man, I wasn’t hired to be nice to these terrorists. I was there to get a job done. I was there to elicit the truth and keep moving.

NARRATOR: Passaro’s case started in 2003, when he was working as a contractor for the CIA at a remote base in Asadabad, Afghanistan, and was tasked with interrogating Abdul Wali, a farmer who was suspected of being behind rocket fire at the base.

DAVID A. PASSARO: I didn’t want him sleeping any more than two to three hours a night.

One of the stress positions was something called the air chair. And that’s just hold his arms out until he decided he would change his demeanor. Every time he would sit there, he would do this, and he would drop his arms to his elbows. Well, that’s not the air chair.

And then I would tap his arms to tell him to get his arms back up underneath. At one point, he lurched out after me, and I slapped him. It was just a quick response. My hands were right here, and it was just to get him off of me. Is that assault? It could be construed as assault, but in the war on terror, and in Afghanistan, in Asadabad, that’s not assault.

NARRATOR: After three days of interrogation, Wali collapsed. Despite efforts to revive him, he died. No autopsy was performed.

Witnesses would later say that Passaro hit Wali repeatedly with a flashlight and kicked him in the groin.

Hyder Akbar, an Afghan-American, had initially accompanied Wali to the base.

HYDER AKBAR: This was a man who had turned himself in voluntarily. It wasn’t the traditional way that people kind of justify torture, the ticking time bomb situation. This was not a situation like that.

DAVID A. PASSARO: Anything that I did to Abdul Wali, none of that constitutes torture. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done anything different.

NARRATOR: The CIA opened an investigation, but Passaro returned to a civilian position at the Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina.

MAN: It was American soldiers serving as military police at Abu Ghraib who took these pictures.

NARRATOR: A year later, after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke, the Justice Department indicted Passaro for assault.

JOHN ASHCROFT: This morning, a grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina, has indicted a contractor working on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency for brutally assaulting an Afghan detainee.

NARRATOR: Passaro maintained that he and others on the front line of the war on terror were given the implied authority to use force when necessary.

DAVID A. PASSARO: After 9/11, President Bush got on national television, and said, not only are we going to go after the terrorists, but we’re going to go after those that harbor the terrorists, and we will do so under any or with any means necessary. In other words, all the rules and regulations no longer applied.

NARRATOR: But witnesses testified that Passaro was explosive, and acting far outside of CIA rules in his zeal to break Wali down. And there was no conclusive evidence presented that Wali was a terrorist at trial.

HYDER AKBAR: There’s some blame to be placed on the U.S. military for allowing an individual like Dave Passaro to be in such a sensitive situation, and then I think that, of course, Dave Passaro for actually, you know, beating this man.

MARGARET WARNER: A former CIA contractor charged with abusing an Afghan detainee was found guilty today of assault.

NARRATOR: After his conviction, the CIA released a statement that read: “Passaro’s actions were unlawful, reprehensible, and neither authorized nor condoned by the agency.”

He served six years in prison. For some, the problem goes beyond a case like Passaro’s. Former Pentagon official Alberto Mora, one of the leading critics of torture, says that even authorized front-line interrogators were given mixed messages.

ALBERTO J. MORA, Former General Counsel of the Navy: One of the former CIA directors, Mike Hayden, was quoted as saying famously that he wanted his people to have chalk on their cleats as they were proceeding in the war on terror. Well, the problem with that analogy is that, if you have chalk on your cleats, you have stepped out of bounds.

NARRATOR: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who helped draft the legal justifications for enhanced interrogation, says the practice was meant to be done only in specific circumstances, by authorized interrogators.

ALBERTO GONZALES, Former White House Counsel: We looked at the statute, which is you cannot intentionally inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. That’s all the statute says. All I can say is that the lawyers tried very hard to define for the operators what would be consistent with the statute passed by Congress.

GWEN IFILL: The CIA told the NewsHour today that the agency stopped using contractors to do interrogations when President Obama ended the CIA’s program in January 2009. At least two other cases of detainee deaths in CIA custody have been dropped, and the White House has promised not to prosecute anyone for interrogations conducted the Bush years if they adhered to the existing guidelines.

As a result, Passaro’s case may go down in history books as the first, and only, case in which a CIA interrogator has been prosecuted for abusing a prisoner.

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